Healthy diet; healthy heart

Healthy diet; healthy heart

Every minute, an American dies from heart disease. It is the number one cause of death in the country.

Eating healthy meals and snacks can help you reduce your risk. Here are some practical tips you can use.

Eat less fat – Eating less saturated fats and trans fats will have the biggest effect. Reducing these types of fats can help lower your blood cholesterol level, decrease weight and decrease risk of heart disease.

Add Omega-3s and 6s to your diet. Adding more Omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in salmon and mackerel and omega-6 fatty acids like those found in walnuts and sunflower seeds, are good for your heart.

Bulk up on fiber – Adding whole grains, legumes, nuts and flax seed to your diet gives you a great source for fiber. Fiber helps you feel full longer, lower cholesterol and helps improve digestive health.

Put some color in your diet – Try to eat more fruits and vegetables. The recommendations say five a day, but try to eat seven. Remember, the most colorful fruits and vegetables often offer the most nutrients. Sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli and spinach are not only tasty and appealing to the eye, they are also full of vitamins and minerals that promote health. You will find fruit and vegetables more filling and you will not be as hungry throughout the day. This will help you make healthier choices based on preference and not on your growling stomach.

Get the kids involved – Children are more likely to eat a healthy meal if they’re part of the meal planning. They’re also really good at keeping adults honest.

Control portion sizes – You can keep many of your favorite foods in your diet if you reduce the portion sizes. A balanced diet with healthy portion sizes is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Click here to check out portion sizes and recommended daily requirements.

When eating out make a plan – Making sensible food choices when you are away from home may be a bit of a challenge ... but it is possible … and easy, once you make it a habit.

Deborah Tang, MS, RD, CD, Associate Lecturer – Dietetics, School of Health Promotion & Human Development at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, has developed strategies for many of the activities we have throughout our lives that involve food choices.

“Food tastes the best during the first two bites,” said Tang. “After that you’re not eating for taste, but for habit. Remembering this can help you when you are facing a salad bar, buffet table or potluck dinner. Taking just enough of a food that appeals to you to satisfy your taste buds can help you limit the amount that you put on your plate.”

Another buffet strategy that Tang recommends is scanning the buffet before you pick up your plate. Decide to try just a few items. Eat slowly and savor the taste. This will give your stomach time to signal your brain when you have had enough.

Planning ahead is also important when you are dining out. People who are watching calories walk in with a plan of what they want to eat. If possible, before you go to a restaurant check the menu out on the Internet. “Plan what you will choose to eat before you get to the restaurant,” says Tang. “Then you will not be tempted to order that entrée that is swimming in butter and cream.”

Another calorie-saving and money-saving strategy that you can use when eating out is to order one entrée and share it. “Many of the meals created in American restaurants contain at least two portions,” Tang said. “By sharing the entrée – and maybe even dessert, you will not over eat and will save money as a bonus. If you are dining alone, ask your server for a box with your entrée. As soon as your entrée arrives, divide it in two. You can have two meals for the price of one.”

Watch the calories that you drink – Whether we drink juice, soda or alcoholic beverages, Americans ingest many liquid calories. Ask for spritzer drinks made with seltzer water and wine or soda. They provide refreshment while cutting calories at the same time.

“Just think about how easy it was to order coffee 30 years ago,” said Tang. “Cream and sugar were our choices. Today, we have designer coffees, lattes and frappes … 350 calories later you have a great tasting beverage in your hand that has used almost a third of your calories for the day.”

Health eating on the road – Take along your own fast food; it makes sense economically and it’s good for your health. Pack your cooler with water, fresh fruit like pre-peeled oranges, pre-cut vegetables, nuts, low-fat or non-fat yogurt, granola, turkey sandwiches and whole grain bread. You will feel more satisfied after eating nutritionally dense food than if you eat calorie-rich, nutritionally empty food.

Expand your taste – Many of us grew up on fast food or meat and potatoes, what we don’t often realize that our taste buds can be educated to enjoy new flavors. For a little zest in your life, why not make eating an adventure. You can start slow. Try a new fruit like a kiwi, a new vegetable like kohlrabi or a new entrée once a week.

Go natural – For an added challenge, try to NOT to eat processed food for an entire week. Once you experience the difference between canned tomato soup and homemade tomato soup, you may never go back.

Snack for health of it* – “Snacking is great to help you feel more energetic,” said Sarah Lynch RD, CD at Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital “It can also be a great weight-loss tool.”

The trick to snacking is to only snack when you are truly hungry and to choose your snacks wisely. Snacking on the right foods between meals helps regulate blood sugar and can actually help you lose weight. Eating a nutritious snack every 3 to 4 hours keeps your blood sugar levels steady. Eating a nutritious snack 20 minutes before a meal can curb your appetite and help you eat less at your next meal.

If you are snacking an hour or two before a meal, limit your snack to 100 calories. If you will be eating more than two hours later a snack having between 150 to 200 calories will help stabilize your blood sugar until your next meal.

Nutritious snacks can help you get the extra fruit, vegetables and dairy products that may be lacking in your diet. Some great, low calorie, nutrient dense snacks include:

  • String cheese and whole-grain crackers
  • Nonfat yogurt mixed with fresh fruit and granola
  • Cereal and milk
  • Cut-up fruit or vegetables with yogurt dip
  • A whole-wheat pita filled with hummus
  • Low-fat corn chips with salsa
  • A fat-free tortilla filled with turkey, cheese, and vegetables
  • Half of a bagel with peanut butter and banana slices
  • Low-fat popcorn with grated Parmesan sprinkled on top
  • Pretzels dipped in low-fat ranch dressing
  • A small salad topped with grilled chicken
  • Low-fat cottage cheese topped with diced pepper and tomato

* Information taken from Nutrition 411, a bi-monthly newsletter from

Success is within your reach – Changing your diet can be a challenge. You should start by making small changes and setting realistic goals.

More information is available through our online health encyclopedia or by downloading “Your Guide to Heart-Healthy Eating.”

Other resources you might want to check out include:

General Dietary Guidelines
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Fueling Your Body for Exercise

For more information on heart related issues, visit

Ministry's Latest Social Activities
Facebook Twitter