The Very Basics of a "Heart-Healthy" Diet and Lifestyle

Acquaint yourself with what a "heart-healthy" diet or lifestyle really boils down to. Contrary to what you may think, it's not complicated.

Helpful Highlights

  • Reduce sodium and sugar intake - why, how?

  • Avoid processed foods - why, how?

  • Hydrate well - why, how?

  • Make positive lifestyle changes - what?

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The very basics of diet

ELIMINATE ADDED SODIUM

Why?

Excessive salt intake is linked to high blood pressure (hypertension), which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Excessive salt consumption contributes to fluid retention and swelling, increasing the workload on the heart and vessels, and causing damage. Reducing salt intake helps lower blood pressure, thereby reducing cardiovascular strain.

How?

  • Do not add salt to foods. Find alternatives to flavor food (no-salt blends, herbs, spices).

  • Stay away from canned goods, use fresh or frozen. If you must use canned goods, look for those labeled No Salt Added (not Low Sodium, as the salt content is barely reduced).

  • Avoid cured meats (Sausages, Italian meats, jerky, deli meats, most ham and bacon).

  • Look for sodium content on food labels.

ELIMINATE ADDED SUGAR

Why?

Intake of added sugars is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. By cutting out added sugars, cardiovascular risks including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and inflammation are reduced. Additionally, experts are now finding that while excessive salt intake may have a more immediate effect on blood pressure regulation, high sugar consumption may contribute more significantly to cardiovascular risk factors over the long term.

How?

  • Cut out sugary drinks such as soft drinks, fruit juices that are not all-natural, sweetened teas, and sports drinks.

  • Do not consume cereals, oatmeal, and granola that are not all-natural - and do not add sugar to them.

  • Avoid canned and other pre-packaged fruits.

  • Recognize that most yogurt, as well as many condiments, sauces, and dressings have a lot of added sugar.

  • Look for sugar content on food labels.

AVOID PROCESSED FOOD ITEMS

Why?

Eliminating processed food items can help avoid cardiovascular disease by lowering intake of excessive sugars and sodium, reducing intake of unhealthy fats, reducing intake of unhealthy additives, improving digestive health, supporting weight management, and hopefully encouraging intake of more nutrient-dense foods.

How?

  • Processed cheeses.

  • Chips and pretzels.

  • Cookies, muffins, and cakes.

  • Chocolates and candies.

  • FAST FOOD (even those perceived as "fresh", like sub shops).

HYDRATE

Why?

Adequate hydration helps maintain blood volume and proper circulation, regulates blood pressure, supports heart and lung function and elasticity, and prevents blood clots.

How?

  • Drink at least 64 ounces of water daily, though ideally half your body weight in ounces (e.g., weight is 190 pounds, drink 80 ounces).

The very basics of lifestyle

  • Stop smoking (and all tobacco use).

  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink per day or less.

  • Lose weight - check with your loved one's provider, but 5% is a good initial goal.

  • Keep moving - at least 20 minutes of moderate, whole-body activity every day.

  • Get adequate sleep - 7 to 8 hours every night.

  • Take medications as prescribed - all of them, on time, every day.

  • Socialize.

  • Reduce stress - easier said than done but finding ways is important.

RESOURCES

American Heart Association

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Mayo Clinic

Cleveland Clinic

American College of Cardiology

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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