Heart-Healthy Diet: How Diet and Healthy Habits Can Reduce Your Heart-Disease Risk

(Vladimir Polikarpov/adobestock)

The heart is one of the most vital organs in the human body, so taking care of it is of the utmost importance. But cardiovascular disease is also the leading cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization.

While heart disease can be inherited, there are still plenty of ways you can reduce your risk.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “heart disease” describes a variety of conditions, including congenital heart defects, arrhythmia, heart valve disease and coronary artery disease.

Eating certain heart-healthy foods and reducing consumption of foods with negative effects on the cardiovascular system can be an effective way to avoid heart conditions later in life.
Here are some tips on how to change your diet to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Eat the Rainbow

The vitamins and minerals offered by fruits and vegetables can be very beneficial to heart health. Leafy greens are especially helpful, along with potatoes, broccoli, berries and avocado, according to Mayo Clinic. Angela Ginn-Meadow, a dietitian at Sinai Hospital and a scientific advisory board member for the Grain Foods Foundation, suggests eating a “rainbow diet” of fruits and vegetables.

“A heart-healthy diet is also an anti-inflammatory diet,” she says. “It’s trying to prevent inflammation in your body that can lead to long-term cardiovascular disease. But antioxidants can lower the risk of heart disease, especially of the thickening of the artery wall, plaque buildup and hypertension.”

Angela Ginn-Meadow (Courtesy)

Avoid Fatty and Salty Foods

Foods with a high fat or sodium content can contribute to the risk of heart disease, as fat can add to a person’s blood cholesterol level. Sodium, on the other hand, can increase blood pressure, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. While protein is crucial to ensuring good heart health, picking lean and low-sodium proteins is essential.

Nuts, seeds and legumes are all non-meat proteins with little fat content. Some prepackaged nuts can be high in sodium, though, so it is important to check the nutritional facts on food items if you are trying to stay heart-healthy, Ginn-Meadow notes.

She also suggests lean meats like fish and chicken. Baking, roasting, boiling and grilling them are easy ways to cook without adding too much fat content, she says. One important step that some may not think to do is to take the skin off of chicken or fish after they are cooked.

“If you take the skin off after a cook, it actually lowers your intake of saturated fat,” she says.

Consider a Specialized Diet

Following a diet plan may be helpful. Ginn-Meadow says that the three popular diets that are proven to have cardiovascular benefits are the Mediterranean diet, plant-based diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The latter is especially helpful due to the fact that hypertension is a cardiovascular issue.

“Diet alone can actually improve and lower your risk of heart disease, especially heart attacks, by 81-94%,” Ginn-Meadow says. “A pill can only lower that risk by about 20-30%.”

Change Other Habits

There are also some small things you can do to live a more heart-healthy lifestyle that aren’t related to diet. Sedentary lifestyles can increase the risk of heart disease, so getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day can help counteract that. Johns Hopkins Medicine specifically suggests aerobic exercise such as running, swimming or jumping rope.

Certain vices are also associated with heart health. Smoking in particular can be very bad for cardiovascular health.

“If you don’t smoke, don’t start, and if you do smoke, quit,” Ginn-Meadow says.

In addition, there has been a long-standing myth that red wine is good for heart health.

But studies have had mixed results, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Limited consumption of wine, though, is safe. Ginn-Meadow suggests that women limit their intake to four ounces of wine a day, and men to eight ounces.

“Disease doesn’t have to be your destiny,” she says. “If you’re able to adapt healthy eating patterns and a healthy lifestyle, you can reverse some of these diseases that can come as you age.”

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