As we covered in last week’s Nutrition Bite, eating a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle doesn’t guarantee a healthy heart. Below are tips 4-8 from the Mayo Clinic* to minimize your risk of heart disease…
Limit Unhealthy Fats
Limiting how much saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease.
(VH Note: It’s important to remember there are plants that are high in saturated fats, too!)
A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaques in your arteries (atherosclerosis) which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
The American Heart Association offers these guidelines for how much fat to include in a heart-healthy diet:
|Type of fat||Recommendation|
|Saturated fat||Less than 6% of total daily calories. If you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 11 to 13 grams|
|Trans fat||Avoid as much as possible|
Check the Food Labels of Snacks
You need to check the labels of all things like cookies, cakes, frostings, crackers, and chips. Not only are these foods low in nutritional value, some — even those labeled reduced fat — may contain trans fats. Trans fats are no longer allowed to be added to foods, but older products may still contain them. Trans fats may be listed as partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient label.
When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower your total blood cholesterol. But moderation is essential.
An easy way to add healthy fat (and fiber) to your diet is to use ground flaxseed. Flaxseeds are small brown seeds that are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that flaxseed lowers unhealthy cholesterol levels in some people. You can grind the flaxseeds in a coffee grinder or food processor and stir a teaspoon of them into yogurt, applesauce or hot cereal and even soups.
(VH Note: Beware – All types of fat are high in calories. Calorie “creep” can add extra weight, which will affect your health.)
Choose Low-fat Protein Sources
If you are vegetarian, low-fat dairy products and eggs are some of your best sources of protein.
In this case, consider lower fat options, such as skim milk rather than whole milk, and omega-3 eggs over everyday commercial eggs.
Legumes — beans, peas and lentils — also are good, low-fat sources of protein and contain no cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty acids can lower blood fats called triglycerides. You’ll find omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed, walnuts, and soybeans.
Reduce The Salt (Sodium) In Your Food
Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Limiting salt (sodium) is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends that:
- Healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon of salt)
- Most adults ideally 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, baked goods and frozen dinners. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can reduce the amount of salt you eat.
If you like the convenience of canned soups and prepared meals, look for ones with no added salt or reduced sodium. Be wary of foods that claim to be lower in sodium because they are seasoned with sea salt instead of regular table salt — sea salt has the same nutritional value as regular salt.
Another way to reduce the amount of salt you eat is to choose your condiments carefully. Many condiments are available in reduced-sodium versions, and salt substitutes can add flavor to your food with less sodium.
(VH Note: Though this doesn’t apply to most people, some on very restricted plant-based diets should be careful they are getting enough salt. While moderation is key, sodium is an important mineral. NO salt in your diet can create dangerous electrolyte imbalances.)
Plan Ahead: Create Daily Menus
You know what foods to feature in your heart-healthy diet and which ones to limit. Now it’s time to put your plans into action.
Create daily menus using the strategies we’ve reviewed, as well as those mentioned in Food Revolution Network’s 15 Foods Your Heart Will Love.
When selecting foods for each meal and snack, emphasize vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Choose lean protein sources and healthy fats, and limit salty foods. Watch your portion sizes and add variety to your menu choices.
Bonus Tip: Allow Yourself An Occasional Treat
Allow yourself an indulgence every now and then. A small, sweet treat or 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. If overindulgence is the exception, rather than the rule, you’ll balance things out over the long term. What’s important is that you eat healthy foods most of the time.
Incorporate these eight tips into your life, and you’ll find that heart-healthy eating is both doable and enjoyable. With planning and a few simple substitutions, you can eat with your heart in mind.
Remember, if you want to know the TRUTH about your food and which foods truly are the best for you (and your heart!), the 2021 Food Revolution Summit starts April 24th!
*Based on information provided by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).