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Heart disease can be prevented when people make healthy choices and manage their health conditions. Everyone can make healthy changes to lower their risk of developing heart disease. To lower risk:
- Watch your weight
- Quit smoking
- Control cholesterol and blood pressure
- Make good eating choices
- Drink alcohol sparingly
- Get moving
- Reduce blood sugar
- Manage stress
Make good eating choices:
The DASH eating plan is a heart healthy approach that has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and have other health benefits. Studies have found that the DASH eating plan can lower blood pressure in as quickly as two weeks. With the DASH diet, eat smaller portions and control calories.
Focus on the DASH diet and decrease your sodium intake. Keep sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day, which is equal to one teaspoon of salt. The lower sodium DASH diet recommendation is to reduce sodium to 1,500 mg a day if you’re 51 years and older, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. However, please keep in mind that these salt restrictions are aimed towards those who are salt-sensitive. An easy way to determine if you are salt-sensitive is to take your blood pressure and then eat a meal or snack containing salt. If you take your blood pressure again 30 minutes later and it has risen significantly, you may want to watch your salt intake. Additionally, aim to increase potassium intake with a target of 4,700 mg daily. Foods rich in potassium include avocados (437 mg per half cup), leafy greens [spinach (838 mg per cup), kale (329 mg per cup), or swiss chard (960 mg per cup)], broccoli (505 mg per cup), Brussel sprouts (494 mg per cup), sweet potatoes (438 mg per potato), apricots (213 mg per half cup), lima beans (238 mg per quarter cup), salmon (534 mg in 3 ounces), lentils (182 mg per quarter cup), bananas (422 mg per 1 medium banana), and yogurt (310 mg per cup of nonfat Greek yogurt).
The DASH eating plan includes:
- Eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils
- Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
- Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets
- Focusing on nutrients, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium
- Limit condiments and opt for lower sodium soy sauce
- Rinse canned foods, such as tuna and beans, to remove excess sodium
- Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta and cereal, which usually have added salt
Less obvious foods that have sodium include the following: lunch and deli meats, breads, canned soups, cottage cheese, salad dressings, and prepackaged meals (e.g. frozen meals).
When grocery shopping, look at labels and choose items that are lower in sodium; especially when it comes to convenience foods like frozen dinners and instant or flavored rice and pasta. When cooking, try substituting salt with fresh or dried herbs and spices or add citrus like lemon or lime juice to flavor your foods.
Food labels can help when choosing items lower in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories and higher in potassium and calcium. When it comes to nutrition labels, sodium free or salt free is less than 5 mg per serving, very low sodium is 35 mg or less of sodium per serving, and low sodium is 140 mg or less of sodium per serving. Foods labeled fat-free indicate less than 0.5 g of fat per serving, while low-fat indicates 3 g or less per serving. However, watch out for fat-free foods as there may be more sugar and salt in these items to add flavor.
When eating out, move the salt shaker away. Make special requests and ask if the meal can be prepared without added salt or salty ingredients like bacon or cheese. Go light on the condiments as they contain salt ingredients. Choose healthy appetizers and side dishes. Opt for a salad instead of chips or fries.
Aim to increase vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats. Along with the DASH eating plan, get moving daily to pursue a lifelong approach to a healthier lifestyle.
About the Author:
Kim Chin received her B.S. in Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She then became a Technical Recruiter, but realized health and wellness was her passion. She decided to go back and do her Dietetic Internship with Wellness Workdays with a focus in worksite wellness and health promotion. She has been a Registered Dietitian for a few years and is a major foodie, you can follow her on Instagram @dietichin (get it? A play on Dietitian + her last name: Chin). You can find her trying out new restaurants, running along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, or hiking with her pup, Basil.