Eating healthy does more than help keep your body in shape; it helps keep your heart in shape, too. If you’re recovering from heart disease, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is especially important. But it’s not always easy.
Rachel D’Souza-Siebert adopted heart-healthy habits after her heart attack. But like many women who are working and raising children, she finds the balance difficult.
“I’ve struggled with the same things as so many other women, like making time to cook healthy and exercise,” says Rachel. “It’s hard to work full-time, spend quality time with my son and eat well at every meal. As women, we need to learn where to draw the line so we can take care of ourselves too.”
Change is hard. This is especially true for those with a weakness for salty or sugary snacks. But it isn’t impossible. In fact, once you know all of the delicious options that can actually help get your heart in shape, you’ll see that it’s not so bad. Plus, the changes you make now can help undo years of unhealthy eating.
Here are 10 steps to healthier eating habits, no matter your age.
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim for 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and eat a variety. Vegetable or 100 percent fruit juice counts toward this goal.
2. Eat more whole-grain foods. Like fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in fiber. Whole-grain foods include whole-wheat bread, rye bread, brown rice and whole-grain cereal. Eat at least three 1-ounce servings a day.
3. Use olive, canola, corn or safflower oil as your main kitchen fat. Limit how much fat or oil you use in cooking, and use liquid vegetable oils such as olive, canola, corn and safflower oils in place of solid fats. It’s a good idea to keep saturated fats under 7 percent of your total fat intake.
4. Eat more lean proteins. In general, skinless poultry, fish and vegetable protein (such as beans) are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than other meats (beef, pork and lamb). Eat at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week, preferably oily kinds with omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout, herring). Also, limit processed meats to no more than two servings a week.
5. Read food labels to help you choose healthy foods. Food labels provide information to help you make better food choices. Learn what information to look for (for example, sodium content) and how to find it quickly and easily.
6. Snack on nuts and seeds. Try to eat at least four servings a week. They’re packed with protein, usually a source of healthy fats, and will help satisfy your hunger.
7. Limit your sodium intake. Keep sodium to less than 1,500 mg a day.
8. Cut down on sugar-sweetened beverages. These calories add up fast, so drink no more than 450 calories (36 ounces) a week.
9. Make sure you’re getting enough calcium. It’s good for your bones and cuts your risk for developing osteoporosis later in life.
10. Create a heart-healthy grocery list. It’s easy to get side tracked when you’re browsing the grocery aisles, so it’s important to get in the habit of always shopping with a list.
Is cheating allowed?
Eating healthier doesn’t mean you have to kiss your favorite foods goodbye. It’s all about moderation. So as long as your doctor says it’s OK, an occasional treat isn’t out of the question.
During her recovery period, Amy Heinl took stock of her family’s lifestyle and made changes to ensure her kids would grow up as healthy as possible. But, as she says, “I still have that occasional glass of wine or slice of pizza.” The key for Amy, and all women recovering from heart disease, is making healthy foods a priority so when the mood strikes to indulge, it helps diminish any negative impact to the heart.