Perhaps you noticed that the recent Valentine’s Day holiday had many people talking about hearts: happy hearts, heartbreak, lonely hearts, and more. But for those of us thinking about health and longevity, maybe a healthy heart would be a more important focus. After all, while emotions and relationships are a key focus of our lives, none of it will matter if you have a ticker that gives out! Whether you’re thinking about keeping your heart strong and healthy for the future, or are looking for ways to turn the tide on all of those issues that arise from the lifestyle you’ve lived and are hoping to change, you’ll be happy to learn that the power to help your heart rests with you, and there’s two villains you can start eliminating right now to give you the best heart health possible.
Villain Number 1: Unhealthy fats. We all know that some fat is necessary for good health, especially brain health. But not all fat is created equal. While omega-3 fatty acids are important for overall good health, and can be obtained from healthy options like nuts, oils, and fish, there are other sources of fats that should be avoided at all costs. The two types of fats that cause the most damage to your heart are saturated fat and trans fat. Beginning to eliminate these villains from your diet will give your heart the best chance at avoiding heart disease, heart attack and other heart problems such as clogged arteries.
Saturated fats: While this type of fat may make the food that contains it taste great, it does your body no favors. Aside from clogging up your arteries, saturated fat also leads to higher total cholesterol, higher LDL cholesterol, and a bigger risk of heart disease! Ouch. Avoiding foods like fatty meats, oils containing saturated fats, full fat diary, and butter or bacon will help you cut saturated fat from your life for good, and say good riddance to future heart problems.
Trans fats: Ahhh, what seemed like a great idea at one point in time (Let’s make foods shelf stable . . . forever!) has turned into one of our nation’s biggest health crises. Trans fats are actually worse for you than saturated fats, since they work against you in two ways: they reduce your “good” HDL cholesterol and increase your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol! Plus, sneaky trans fats lurk in packaged foods that can be considered “trans fat free” on the label. How is this possible? The recommended daily intake of trans fats is ideally less than two grams a day, but a food can be called trans fat free even if it has less than a half a gram per serving. So if you eat enough servings of these foods for the day, you’re over the limit! Scary, isn’t it?
Villain Number 2: Salt. Many people will point out that some sodium is necessary for a healthy diet, but we as a nation have never had a problem with consuming “too little” salt. In fact, the problem is that salt seems to be lurking everywhere. It’s not enough to put away that salt shaker at the dinner table, because sprinkling salt on your broccoli is not what is causing us to have a country full of people with diabetes, kidney problems, and high blood pressure, which is all leading to heart failure, cardiovascular disease, and long term kidney disease.
Instead, it’s the salt found in most foods we eat – such as processed foods with large sodium levels like soup, frozen foods, packaged dinners, and fast food and restaurant meals – that are pushing us over the recommended 2,300 mg of salt daily (1,500 mg for people older than 51). How far over? Most people get 3,400 mg a day! The popular advice is to cut out those foods, which you should do, but don’t despair . . . you can do your health and your heart a big favor by adding in foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to replace the junk.
You want to be good friends with your heart for a long lifetime (questionable “love” decisions aside). So make your daily eating decisions with your heart in mind, and you’ll be on the path to a healthy heart in no time.