Your diet is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy heart. Here are some of the most important ingredients and minerals to be mindful of when working toward a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Your doctor may have recently told you that you’re at risk for heart disease due to your lifestyle or your family history. Perhaps you’ve recently experienced a major cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more Americans die of heart disease than any other condition. You can reduce your chances of developing heart disease by eating a healthy diet.

Eating habits can be difficult to change. You may worry that starting to eat right now means you won’t enjoy food anymore. This isn’t the case. Even small changes can make a big difference in your quality of life.

Once you know which foods are best for your heart, eating healthy can become simpler.

A heart-healthy diet includes a wide variety of nutritious foods, some of which you may already enjoy.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating the following to boost your long-term heart health:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • legumes
  • dairy
  • poultry
  • fish
  • nuts

The AHA also recommends limiting how much red meat and sugary foods and beverages you consume.

Follow these guidelines and recommendations:

  • Choose lean protein options and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.
  • Eat fish at least twice per week. Oily fish with omega-3 fatty acids help lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes.
  • Fill up your plate with 50 percent vegetables and fruits.

Beyond these general guidelines, several areas are important to understand when it comes to nutrition and your heart.

The AHA recommendation on alcohol is to drink in moderation if you do drink. For men, this means no more than two drinks per day. Moderate intake for women means having no more than one drink per day. One drink equals one 12-ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.

The AHA emphasizes that the relationship between alcohol and heart disease is complex. Researchers have found an association between heavy alcohol consumption and health risks, including cardiovascular disease, alcohol use disorder, obesity, and breast cancer.

Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to sudden cardiac death. Your doctor can help you assess the risks related to drinking alcohol.

The AHA notes that the rise in obesity and cardiovascular disease has increased concern about the high sugar intake in the typical American diet. Their statement concludes that certain guidelines should be followed to decrease cardiovascular risk while maintaining a healthy weight and meeting nutritional needs.

Women should consume no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars, and men should consume no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars.

This amounts to a maximum of 6 teaspoons, or 24 grams, of added sugar for women and about 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams, of added sugar for men.

Major sources of added sugars include:

  • soft drinks
  • candy
  • cakes
  • cookies
  • pie
  • fruit drinks
  • dairy desserts, such as ice cream
  • sweetened yogurt
  • sweetened grains such as waffles and oatmeal

Sodium is one of the most important ingredients to limit when working toward better heart health. The AHA reports that Americans consume approximately 3,500 milligrams of sodium per day when the recommended amount is no more than 2,300 mg a day. In fact, the ideal amount is a limit of 1,500 mg per day for most adults.

To help limit your intake of sodium you can:

  • limit consumption of highly processed foods and meats
  • choose no sodium or low sodium products at the grocery store
  • flavor your food with herbs and spices instead of slat
  • cook your own food as much as possible

Caffeine is a stimulant. It can be in many foods and beverages, including:

  • coffee
  • tea
  • soft drinks
  • chocolate

It hasn’t been determined yet if high caffeine intake increases the risk of coronary heart disease.

The Mayo Clinic notes that while studies have found no definitive connection between drinking coffee and an increased risk for heart disease, the research does suggest possible risks. Studies show that high consumption of unfiltered coffee is associated with minor increases in cholesterol levels.

Research suggests there isn’t enough information to determine if calcium intake affects heart disease risk. However, consuming calcium through dairy products, along with four to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, helps significantly lower blood pressure.

The AHA emphasizes the importance for women, in particular, to eat dairy products. Most women should aim to consume between 1,000 and 2,000 milligrams of calcium daily.

The Mayo Clinic notes that some men may benefit from calcium supplements as well. Men over age 50 should consume in the range of 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per day and 1,000 to 2,500 milligrams per day for men under age 50.

Other essential vitamins to include in your heart-healthy diet include:

Diet plays a major role in your heart health. Being mindful of overconsumption of alcohol, sugar, sodium, and caffeine is particularly important, as well as putting in effort to eat foods high in vitamins and minerals, such as calcium.

Even small changes in your eating habits can make a difference in your health. Your heart and your loved ones will thank you.

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