Heart Disease & Diet: General Info

A healthy heart is one of the greatest contributors to living a longer, more productive life. Diet plays a significant role in the process of keeping that organ functioning properly. It is a fact that eating the right foods can prevent heart disease, reduce the risk of a heart attack, and even reverse damage that has already occurred. While diet is not the only management component of a healthy lifestyle, it is definitely one that should be implemented on a daily basis.

Causes of heart disease

Heart disease does not develop overnight, but is a gradual decline that often begins in childhood. Proper and balanced nutrition is vital at an early age to prevent or reduce the risk of the most common type of heart problem: coronary artery disease. With a history of fast foods and sugar-laden snacks, the arteries can become clogged with plaque - a process called atherosclerosis. Fats, cholesterol, and other body byproducts contribute to this condition; hence, the need for a heart healthy diet.

What is heart healthy eating?

It is possible to enjoy food and remain on a healthy diet that protects the heart from disease. First, it is important to reduce the intake of saturated fat, salt, sugar, and high-cholesterol foods. It is equally important to increase the intake of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and water, while reducing calories. It is still possible to splurge on occasion, but in moderation and within limits. If the majority of a diet adheres to the recommended heart-healthy guidelines, the risk of disease may be greatly mitigated.

While portion control is important, the proper diet will include a wide range of healthy fare. Fried and processed foods are among the easiest to substitute: baking, roasting, steaming, and grilling lean meats, skinless poultry, and fish are healthy alternatives. Products based on soy and whole wheat are also much easier on the heart. Fresh fruits and vegetables are simple and tasty replacements for packaged snacks. In addition, dried legumes such as peas and beans are a recommended source of fiber.

Low-fat products (cream cheese, milk, butter, and yogurt) as well as foods with polyunsaturated fats (fish and canola oil) also factor into a diet that is geared toward heart health.

Foods to avoid for heart healthy eating

The major unhealthy ingredients in most foods include excess salt and sugars along with saturated fats. Reducing or eliminating these from the diet and increasing good fats, complex carbohydrates, and soluble fiber will go a long way toward a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition labels may list hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils, which are essentially saturated and trans fats; these are responsible for raising levels of LDL, the "bad" cholesterol. Cookies and crackers, for example, are often high in trans fats.

Tips for following a heart healthy diet

Developing a healthy diet for prevention of heart disease requires a routine along with dedication to making the right choices. Trigger foods should be avoided or replaced with healthy alternatives. For instance, a person who craves sweets would eliminate ice cream from the shopping list and replace it with fruits and sugar-free selections. Conditioning is an important factor in maintaining a healthy diet.

It may also be helpful to eat several healthful snacks and meals throughout the day rather than fight hunger in between three larger servings. Preparing healthy foods and snacks in advance is also recommended; this makes the foods ready-to-eat and leaves less room for temptation.

When a person realizes the significance of diet and its impact on health, there is no reason to avoid making the important change from eating foods that cause problems to those that will improve health and prolong life.