NDSU Extension Service - Mercer County

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Think Heart Health in February

Eating for heart health, healthy diet

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Overloading your plate, taking seconds and eating until you feel stuffed can lead to consuming more calories than you should. Use a small plate or bowl to help control your portions. Eat larger portions of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods.

Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals, are low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Eating more fruits and vegetables may help you eat less high-fat foods, such as meat, cheese and snack foods. Keep vegetables washed and cut in your refrigerator for quick snacks. Keep fruit in a bowl in your kitchen so that you'll remember to eat it. Choose recipes that have vegetables or fruits as the main ingredients, such as vegetable stir-fry or fresh fruit mixed into salads.

Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. You can increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for refined grain products.

Limiting how many saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease. A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

The best way to reduce saturated and trans fats in your diet is to limit the amount of solid fats — butter, margarine and shortening — you add to food when cooking and serving. You can also reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming fat off your meat or choosing lean meats with less than 10 percent fat.

Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and eggs are some of your best sources of protein. Fish is another good alternative to high-fat meats. You'll find the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring.

Reducing sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. Healthy adults should have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon of salt). People age 51 or older, African-Americans, and people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.

Although reducing the amount of salt you add to food at the table or while cooking is a good first step, much of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed foods, such as soups and frozen dinners. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can reduce the amount of salt you eat.

Allow yourself an occasional treat. One candy bar or a handful of potato chips won't derail your heart-healthy diet. But don't let it turn into an excuse for giving up on your healthy-eating plan.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist NDSU Extension Service

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