8 Dietitian-Approved Tips for a Healthy Heart

Written by Jenny Smiechowski, staff writer for The Birches

Heart disease is alarmingly common. Around 2,300 Americans die from heart disease every day, and it’s the leading cause of death among both men and women. But it’s also highly preventable.

Making small changes to your lifestyle—especially your diet—can reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 80 percent. The question is…what should you eat for a healthier heart?

Well, The Birches’ dietitian Linda Graham dropped by recently and shared a few heart healthy eating tips with our residents and team members, and we think you could benefit from them too. Graham says you can make your diet more heart-friendly by:

#1 Boosting your berry intake. According to Graham, berries promote a healthy heart, because they’re packed with antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. So whether you love blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or blackberries, do your heart a favor, and eat them often.

#2 Eating your vegetables. Like berries, Graham says dark green and yellow vegetables are chock-full of antioxidants that promote heart health. They also contain a lot of heart-healthy fiber.

#3 Going nuts for nuts. Not everyone can eat nuts because of allergies and dental issues. But Graham says if you can, you should. “We’ve known for a long time that inflammation can cause heart disease and cardiovascular problems, and nuts are very anti-inflammatory,” Graham said. One of the reasons nuts are so anti-inflammatory is because they contain plenty of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

#4 Choosing healthy fats. Speaking of omega-3 fatty acids, Graham says you should choose your cooking oils wisely. Two healthy, dietitian-approved cooking oils you can try are canola oil and olive oil, both of which contain heart-healthy omega-3s.

#5 Packing in healthy protein. Protein is important, because it helps your body build muscle. Graham recommends reaching for healthy, lean sources of protein like chicken and fish. And even though eating eggs used to be a heart health no-no, Graham says the latest research has redeemed the incredible, edible egg. “I think we’re past the notion that eggs are bad for us. They’re good, and they’re a very good source of protein,” said Graham.

#6 Steering clear of processed and red meats. Even though eggs are a welcome part of a heart healthy diet, the processed meats that you typically eat with them—like breakfast sausage and bacon—aren’t. They contribute to inflammation, which leads to heart problems. Besides messing with your heart health, Graham says red and processed meats also increase your cancer risk.

#7 Ditching other desserts for dark chocolate. In general, sugary treats are bad for your heart, because they encourage inflammation. That doesn’t mean you can never eat dessert. But when you do, Graham recommends small portion sizes. Even better, she suggests you choose dark chocolate, which has heart health benefits.

#8 Analyzing your ability to indulge. Most of us figure it’s okay to indulge every once in a while, and Graham says this assumption is mostly true…but it doesn’t work for everybody. Some people are good at practicing moderation, but others aren’t. “For some people, it’s easier to eliminate stuff completely, because eating it sets you off and you can’t stop eating it,” Graham said. So if you know that you can have that slice of cake or piece of bacon without abandoning your healthy diet completely, then allow yourself the occasional indulgence. Otherwise, just say no to unhealthy foods.

If you follow these eight tips, you’re making an important investment in your heart health. But Graham says you’ll also come away with an added bonus…better brain health.

“Just like heart disease, researchers now think that some memory issues are caused by inflammation,” Graham said. “So if we can eat foods that lower the inflammatory response in our body, that will also help prevent some of the memory problems people encounter as they get older.”