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Heart-Healthy Food for Thought

Grocery aisles packed with sugary and salty snacks can make it difficult for even the most health-conscious consumer to adhere to a balanced diet. While making heart-healthy choices isn’t always easy, the benefits are worth the extra effort.

Obesity, sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating are among the leading contributors to heart disease, which remains the number one cause of death in the United States. While most people are aware of the dangers of a high-fat, calorie-laden diet, few may realize that a diet filled with excess sodium can also be harmful to the heart. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most
Americans consume the majority of their sodium through processed and restaurant-prepared foods.

While overhauling your eating habits takes time, making small changes at home or when you’re out to eat is a step in the right direction. Eating nutritious meals packed with fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains can help lower cholesterol, fight cancer and improve overall health. In fact, even simple changes in your diet — such as substituting fruit for chips or water for soda — can make a huge impact on your overall health.

“Remember, the perimeter of the grocery store usually has the most nutritious, least-processed options,” says Janalou Phelan MS, RD, LD, registered dietitian at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “That’s where the fresh produce, low-fat dairy, fresh lean meats and whole-grain breads can be found.”

Eating healthy foods doesn’t have to mean forgoing taste. If you’re looking for flavorful and healthy breakfast, lunch or dinner ideas, consider simple foods with added spices, fruits or vegetables. Here are some heart-healthy options to try:

• Oats — Instead of starting your morning with sugary cereal, opt for plain oatmeal topped with your favorite fruit or nuts. Full of fiber, potassium and antioxidants, oatmeal has been known to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

• Salmon — Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, two servings of salmon every week may help to reduce your risk for heart disease. If you aren’t a fan of salmon, the American Heart Association also recommends eating tuna, sardines, shellfish or mackerel.

• Berries — Whether you prefer blueberries, strawberries or raspberries, all three varieties offer the same anti-inflammatory properties for blood vessels.

• Legumes — Chickpeas, lentils, and black and kidney beans are packed with fiber and can easily be added to salads or soups. They also may help to regulate blood sugar and prevent diabetes.

If you plan to head out to your favorite restaurant, think about what’s on the menu. Many restaurants and fast food chains now offer low-calorie menus and have nutritional information available to review before you order.

The American Heart Association offers these tips to consider before placing your order.

• Ask how your dish is prepared and opt for those that are steamed, broiled, baked, grilled or roasted.

• Substitute fruits and/or vegetables for starches or fried sides.

• Ask your server about healthy choices on the menu that are low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.

To learn more about heart-healthy meals that are quick and easy to make, visit

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