It’s vital for us to be informed on making good lifestyle and diet choices to prevent heart disease and help us live longer.
Globally, heart disease is the leading cause of death, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). In the United States, 2,200 Americans die from heart disease each day.
Causes of Heart Disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) a poor diet, excessive alcohol use, physical inactivity, obesity, and diabetes are among the most influential lifestyle choices that put people at a higher risk for heart disease. Plaque buildup in the coronary arteries is the most common type of heart disease.
A diet based on wholesome nutrition is a major factor in fighting plaque build-up in coronary arteries. Additionally, health experts recommend limiting processed or fatty foods, highly processed or salty foods, sweets, solid fats, and “sugary drinks” in order to maintain a healthy diet to prevent heart disease.
Health professionals — including the CDC and AHA — advise everyone to eat more vegetables and fruits. They also recommend that we should consume less sugar and sodium.
Carleton Rivers, RDN, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Health Professions is an expert on nutrition and dieting and nutrition.
Rivers highly recommends that eating fresh fruits and vegetables cooked using a low-fat method is a great way to prevent heart disease.
“Choose vegetables that have a rich color like dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots and zucchini. Just be sure not to substitute fresh fruits with 100 percent fruit juice or dried fruit.”
Dried fruit and fruit juice are high in sugar content. And fruit juices lack the fiber needed to control blood sugar.
Carleton says protein and fiber are important, as well.
“Fiber is important for gastrointestinal motility, blood sugar control and lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Fiber is great for appetite control because it can fill you up and keep you feeling fuller for longer.”
Protein is needed to build and maintain muscles. Protein is found in a variety of sources such as lean meats cooked using a low-fat method, like baking.
Prepare and Cook at Home
It’s much easier to eat a healthy and balanced diet if meals are prepared and cooked at home. Most restaurants add salt and butter to dishes — increasing the calorie amount.
Here’s a list of superfoods to help prevent heart disease:
- Garlic — Reduces blood pressure and coronary plaque
- Oranges — Reduces cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and health failure
- Lentils — Reduces blood pressure
- Red Wine — Boosts HDL, reduces unwanted clotting
- Kale — Prevents atherosclerosis
- Pomegranates — Reduce atherosclerosis
- Almonds — Reduce LDL and fatal arrhythmias
- Dark Chocolate — Reduces blood pressure
- Sardines — Lower triglycerides, raise HDL
This list is only a start to a healthy diet. A healthy diet includes a broad range of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts — not just a select few.
So while you’re shopping for kale, also consider spinach, romaine, arugula, and Swiss chard. Oranges are great, but so are bananas, apples, strawberries, and kiwifruit.
As much as the AHA and the CDC encourage a healthy diet to prevent heart disease, Rivers says it’s okay to have a “cheat day” every now and then. A cheat day allows you to have a little bit of what you’re craving. It also helps prevent you from quitting the diet all together.
Hippocrates understood the concept more than 2,000 years ago: “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”