You may be having an improper relationship with the word “diet” and not even know it
We tend to announce we’re “going on a diet” when we gain unwanted weight. It’s usually just a temporary thing.
The true meaning of a diet may be different than what you think. The word itself is based on the Latin diaeta. It means “a manner of living or a way of life.” Diet is not something we take up for a while. It’s a fundamental choice.
Here are some choices you should make when you decide to eat the foods that make up a heart-healthy diet.
You might get away with blaming this on your mother. She’s probably the one who made it mandatory for you to eat everything on your plate. She had good reasons, though. Your mother was making sure that you were consuming enough food to assist with the growth of your young body.
Our need for healthy food never changes, but our caloric intake does. How much you eat is just as important as what you’re eating. Restaurants can often take the place of your mother in enticing you to eat more than you need.
Any heart-healthy diet includes controlling the amount of food you eat. Use a smaller plate or bowl to help you reduce the size of serving portions. Choose larger portions of low-calorie fruits and vegetables. Significantly cut down on the size of high-sodium, refined processed foods.
Making this a conscious effort often helps people start to lose weight. A commitment to eating this way permanently helps them start to live healthier.
Another way to develop a permanent change in the way you approach portion control is to keep track of the number of servings you eat. There are many online sources that can help you determine a serving size and even help you track them.
Just be warned that initially, those serving sizes might be a bit surprising and depressing. A standard serving of pasta is about only half a cup – or about the size of a hockey puck. A standard serving of meat is only about two to three ounces – or about the size and thickness of a deck of playing cards.
Eat more fruits and vegetables
Sure, no major surprise about this tip. They’re “good for you.” What you might not know is why they’re good for a heart-healthy diet. Most plant-based foods contain substances that have been shown to help prevent cardiovascular disease.
Vegetables also tend to be low in calories but high in dietary fiber, the latter of which may help you feel full.
One of the easiest ways to increase your dietary consumption of fruits and vegetables is to give them the starring role in your food preparation. A bowl of fruit in the kitchen isn’t just a decorative prop. It’s a regular reminder – every time you pass by – to help yourself to something that’s low in calories but great for your health.
Make vegetables the main ingredient in your dinner entrée. Sure, sautéed mushrooms are a great topping for a grilled steak. But have you ever tried a marinated and grilled portabella mushroom? You might decide you like the flavor and the texture as much as that medium-rare cut of beef.
Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits are the best choices. If you do opt for canned vegetables, look for ones that are labeled as having low sodium content. Often, the canning and preparation process uses high amounts of sodium. Look for canned fruit that’s been packed either in plain water or juice from the fruit itself.
Much of the breads and grain-based foods we find at the grocery store have been highly processed – to make them look and sometimes taste better. Unfortunately, this processing removes the parts of grains that provide us with beneficial heart-healthy nutrition. That favorite white bread you remember eating as a kid? It’s so highly processed that the manufacturer actually adds nutrition back into it.
Whole grains are excellent sources of fiber and nutrients which play a role in regulating blood pressure – but only when they are unprocessed. It’s easy to increase your intake – just look for breads and other grain-based products that say they are made of whole grain.
For breakfast, look for high-fiber cereal made of whole grains, or better yet, opt for oatmeal. Avoid frozen waffles or biscuits. They’re usually made with highly-processed grains.
Seeking out whole grain alternatives doesn’t mean you have to give up pasta. It is possible to find delicious whole-grain versions of your favorite types. You may not even be able to taste a difference – but over time, your heart will thank you.
Saturated and trans fats are bad news for your heart. Removing them from your diet now is an important step to reducing blood cholesterol and lowering your risk of heart disease. Eating food high in these types of fats is believed to lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries. This can put you at a higher risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Check the nutritional labels of the food you plan to eat. The American Heart Association recommends that you limit your daily consumption of saturated fat to no more than about 13 grams. That’s going to be about 6% of total daily calories. As for trans fats, the American Heart Association recommends you avoid them altogether.
Limit your intake of creamy sauces, nondairy creamers, food made with hydrogenated shortening or margarine, and fast-food products made with palm, cottonseed, or palm-kernel oils.
Processed foods like cookies, cakes, frostings, chips, and crackers might be listed as “reduced fat,” but often it means they have been made with trans fats, instead. Avoid foods which state they have been made with oils that have been “partially hydrogenated.”
Fat of any kind is high in calories. Monounsaturated fats like olive or canola oil are wise choices when consumed in moderation. Fish, avocados, seeds, and nuts contain polyunsaturated fats. Both of these types of fats may help you to lower your total blood cholesterol.
Choose protein wisely
Lean meat, poultry, and fish are excellent sources of protein. Diets high in protein are good for heart health. Beware, though, of how much fat you consume as a result of this protein. Chicken breasts are great – until they become fried chicken patties at your favorite fast food outlet.
Also, opt for legumes. Lentils, beans, and peas are excellent sources of protein – but they contain far less fat and no cholesterol.
Shy away from sodium
Many highly-processed foods don’t taste like much of anything. They also must be highly seasoned to make them appealing. The most common seasoning used for this purpose is sodium.
Consuming too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends that we consume no more than about 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily. That’s only about half a teaspoon of salt.
Avoiding canned or processed foods can help you to stay in this optimal sodium-intake range. Many canned soups or prepared meals have high sodium contents – and don’t be confused by labels boasting that sea salt was used instead. It has the same sodium value as regular salt.
Ease into your heart-healthy diet
A diet should be a way of life. It’s a permanent shift, and these choices can help you to make a long-standing move toward better heart health. Some of the advice might be a bit hard to handle if you do it all at once – and maybe you’re just not ready to give up on those highly-processed egg noodles yet.
A diet is supposed to reward you with a better way of life. Allow yourself an indulgence from time to time as a way to reward yourself for eating well. You’ve earned it.
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