February is American Heart Month, and the goal for this month is to raise awareness about heart disease and how to prevent it. You can help prevent heart disease by making key lifestyle choices and sustaining them throughout your life. In this guide, we’ll look at heart-healthy diet tips to lower your risk for heart disease.
Bonus: we’ve got 3 simple plant-based recipes below to kickstart your renewed commitment to heart health.
Let’s begin by taking a closer look at heart disease.
Who is at risk for heart disease?
Heart disease is caused by a buildup of plaque on the walls of the coronary arteries. This can block the flow of blood, which carries oxygen, to your heart. You may not think you are at risk of heart disease, but it’s a common condition. In fact, 1 in 4 deaths in the United States every year are caused by heart disease.
Conditions and behaviors that are risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure: uncontrolled high blood pressure is well-known to be one of the biggest risks
- High cholesterol level: this is directly linked to diabetes, poor diet and bad habits like smoking and lack of exercise
- Smoking: this damages the blood vessels and can lead to heart disease
- Obesity: being overweight or obese puts extra stress on the heart
- Diabetes: high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels
- Lack of exercise: exercising keeps the heart and circulatory system healthy and can help to fight against the previously mentioned conditions and behaviors that put you at risk
- Unhealthy diet: if you don’t have healthy eating habits, your body will lack the ability to fight against factors that put you at risk for heart disease
You can reduce the risk of heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes by:
- managing heart health conditions with your health care team,
- exercising at least 150 minutes a week
- avoiding smoking
- eating a heart-healthy diet
Plant-based diets ensure heart health
The general recommendations for a heart-healthy diet include:
- limiting your sodium intake (this includes fast food and other processed foods)
- limiting trans fats and bad cholesterol from your diet
- lowering your consumption of sugar
- increasing your consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
We should be eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. That means half of our plates at each meal should be foods from this food group. Sadly, only 1 in 10 adults get enough fruits and vegetables every day.
Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that rid our body of free radicals and other components that may be aggravating heart health issues. Filling your plate (and belly) with a variety of these nutritionally dense foods at each meal will help your heart health as well as your overall health.
Do it for your heart
To see the most benefits for your heart, make the switch to a plant-based diet. This diet can be cost-effective and help you to:
- achieve a healthy body-mass index (an indication of healthy weight)
- lower blood pressure
- lower cholesterol
The evidence in favor of plant-based diets is so overwhelming that some doctors are now recommending it to all of their patients, especially those who have one of the conditions mentioned above, or who have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.