These days you can hardly read a magazine, turn on the TV, or surf your favorite website without hearing a new report on the state of American health, particularly obesity and its close cousin, heart health. Unfortunately, there’s good reason that these topics seem to constantly be trending: they directly affect about half of people in the United States.
A study published earlier this year in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, revealed that fully 48% of our nation’s adults suffer from cardiovascular disease. Heart disease remains the number-one cause of death, and strokes stay steady at number five.
Whether you have already been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, or you want to take steps now to prevent such a diagnosis in the future, there’s good news. It only takes a few changes to your diet to make improvements. Read on for tips to make your heart healthier and your life longer!
1. Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil
There’s a lot of confusion about which fats are healthiest, and it seems like the rules change every year! One good way to go about cooking with oil? Make extra-virgin olive oil your go-to. Not only is it universally understood to be one of the healthiest choices, it’s also pretty versatile.
Experts also advise not to eat totally fat-free, either. Some oil in your diet is absolutely necessary, since lots of good-for-you foods are actually fat-soluble.
2. Make Good Food Easy to Eat
Be honest: how many times have you gone to the farmer’s market with great intentions and loaded up on vegetables — only to discover a crisper drawer full of wilted, half-rotten ingredients a week or two later? The key to eating more vegetables is making them accessible and easy to eat.
As soon as you get those fruits and veg home, wash and portion them. Use single-serving plastic containers so you can see what you’ve got and grab it easily for on-the-go snacking.
Most supermarkets now offer pre-prepped vegetables for purchase. This can be a boon to people with dexterity issues — or just busy schedules!
“These convenient vegetables might cost a few pennies more,” explains Houston cardiologist Baxter Montgomery, “but they’re worth the splurge. After all, a healthy heart is priceless.”
3. Take Healthy Snacks and Meals to Work
The office or the jobsite often gets blamed for derailing our diets. You get busy with the day’s tasks, don’t have time to go get a healthy lunch, and end up making do with vending-machine snacks or leftover break-room doughnuts.
Be prepared for crazy workdays with a stash of good and good-for-you foods. Keep shelf-stable options like protein bars, nuts, dried fruits, and whole-grain crackers in your office or cubicle.
If there’s a fridge onsite, stock it up at the beginning of the work week with bagged salad mix and a heart-healthy homemade dressing. Even frozen meals, as long as they’re nutritious versions, are a better option than pizza slices, fast food, or greasy burgers — so keep a few of those on hand if you can, too.
4. Ease Up on the Salt
A diet high in sodium is one of the major contributing factors to high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, so cut back on your salt use. There are loads of delicious, salt-free spice blends on the market; experiment until you find the ones you like best.
Give your meals an international flair! Lots of cuisines use bold spices, zingy flavors, and plenty of fresh herbs to add punch without salt. A simple squeeze of lime or lemon can often brighten up a food substantially.
Lastly, read food labels carefully. You might be shocked at how many everyday purchases contain whopping amounts of sodium. It’s not just the usual culprits like snack chips and deli meats, either — so be vigilant when you choose packaged breads, salad dressings, condiments, even canned veggies.