The food choices we make today will have a big impact on our health tomorrow. Good health starts in the kitchen. Combining a nutrient-rich diet with physical activity plays a major role in maintaining a healthy weight, reducing the risk for heart disease and improving your overall wellbeing.
How Diet Affects Your Health
“You are what you eat” is more than just a cliché. This phrase expresses an important truth about how what we put in our bodies defines how we feel and function. When we eat a balanced diet that includes wholesome sources of protein, vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients, we’re providing our bodies with the essential building blocks for proper functioning.
Eating a diet heavy in fat, salt and artificial ingredients has the opposite effect. All that junk goes somewhere after we eat it, often finding a permanent home in our arteries. What doesn’t stay with us has to get excreted somehow. Our bodies have to work extra hard to filter out all the unnecessary stuff we’re eating, putting a strain on the whole system.
An estimated 93 million Americans were obese in 2015-2016 according to the CDC – that’s nearly 40 percent of the adult population. Especially distressing is the rise of obesity among children in the U.S. By starting their lives off overweight, these children will experience a greater incidence of cardiovascular problems earlier in life.
Imagine this: You spend decades of your life eating greasy, salty foods daily. For over twenty years, your diet hardly includes any whole foods, let alone the recommended amount of fruits and veggies. The constant influx of fat has begun accumulating in your arteries, beginning to create blockages that make you feel tired and out of breath after just walking up and down stairs. The high level of salt you sprinkle on all your food has begun to cause spikes in your blood pressure. You get hot flashes and feel lightheaded out of nowhere sometimes.
Fast-forward another twenty years and you find yourself sitting on a cold and sterile hospital bed. You’ve had your first heart attack. One of your arteries was so clogged that it cut off blood flow to your heart. Smoking isn’t the only bad habit that leads to poor health. Your diet can help you lead a healthy, happy life – or it can kill you earlier than expected.
Why Bother with Good Nutrition?
By choosing to provide our bodies with wholesome foods instead, we can choose to keep our bodies healthy into our golden years, all while minimizing the number of medications we have to take. Two of the most prevalent conditions in the elderly are high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. These two conditions are linked to our eating habits and may be controlled through dietary and lifestyle changes.
A low-sodium, low-fat diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure, leading to an improvement in heart health. If you combine a good diet with daily exercise, it’s possible to mitigate the effects of hypertension and keep your medication dependency in check.
The earlier you start taking care of yourself, the better, but it’s not too late to start right now and make some better choices when you prepare a meal or reach for a snack. Here’s how to get your diet back on track and avoid the messy complications of long-term heart disease.
Foods That Can Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
Keeping your heart healthy will help keep the rest of your system running smoothly. Changing your diet is a great way to reduce how much effort your heart has to put in each time it pumps. Below, we’ve listed some great food options that can help reduce high blood pressure and get your heart in better shape.
Fruits & Vegetables
An obvious choice for a healthier heart, fruits and vegetables offer so many great benefits to our bodies overall. They’re full of necessary vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that will keep our bodies running at maximum efficiency. Pick fresh and frozen over canned options, as these are usually preserved with high-salt solutions or too much added sugars. Frozen produce can be an affordable alternative to the fresh variety, and it’s just as nutritious as long as it’s 100 percent fruit or vegetable (no added anything). Plus, it keeps well for months in the freezer.
Fruits are also high in potassium, which is an essential mineral that helps balance out the negative effects of sodium in our bodies. Avocados, technically a fruit, have twice as much potassium as bananas and provide a healthy fat at the same time.
Another potassium-rich, sodium-busting food, potatoes are a delicious and healthy addition to any diet. They’re also rich in fiber, which may lower your risk for heart disease.
Choose baked and steamed potatoes over fried to further benefit your heart. You might have heard that sweet potatoes are better than starchy white ones, but white potatoes are fine in moderation, assuming you have no other health problems.
A tasty and healthy snack, yogurt is very low in sodium and high in naturally occurring probiotics, which have recently been shown to help keep your heart healthy. Probiotics can lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels along with bringing down your blood pressure. On top of these benefits, yogurt is versatile. Add it to smoothies, freeze it for a healthy ice cream alternative, or use the Greek variety to replace sour cream as a topping for tacos. Just make sure you pay attention to any added sugar. Plain is best.
Beans & Legumes
These plant-based proteins are a great way of getting the amino acids our body needs without all the extra fat from animal sources. Not only are beans and legumes low in sodium, one study found that people who enjoyed legumes in moderate amounts throughout the week had a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease than people who ate them less than once a week.
While it might seem counterintuitive, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are heart health heroes. Their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids lower the risk of irregular heartbeats and plaque buildup in our arteries. This heart-protecting effect is so well documented that the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least twice a week.
Better Health Through Eating
This is just the beginning of how eating a balanced diet made with fresh, whole ingredients can lead to a healthier you. The cardioprotective and blood pressure reducing effects of many natural foods could even allow you to control a variety of health issues naturally without having to take extra medications. But as always, make sure to check in with your doctor before you start adding or taking away foods and medication from your diet.