When it comes to a heart healthy diet, a few buzzwords may come to mind: low-carb, high-protein, good fats, bad fats, good carb, bad carb. The list goes on and on, and it can get rather confusing. How do you navigate these options to know which one is the best one for you? The simple answer: maybe you don’t need to.
Understanding some of the misconceptions about heart healthy diets and a few tips can help you better navigate your nutritional options and create a balanced approach to heart healthy eating that best suits your lifestyle.
Common misconceptions about heart healthy foods
The following are some common misconceptions about heart healthy diets:
- All fats are bad. Not all fats are harmful; according to the American Heart Association unsaturated fats, found in such oils as avocado and olive, are very beneficial for heart health.
- Low fat equals healthy. Some low-fat products contain high sugar or refined carbohydrates, which may not be heart healthy. While a high-fat diet isn’t ideal, the body requires a moderate amount of dietary fat to function optimally.
- No need for portion control with healthy foods. Even nutritious foods should be consumed in moderation to maintain a balanced diet and avoid excessive calorie intake.
- Processed foods are just junk foods. While chips, candy bars, and pop-tarts are pretty obvious, prepackaged health foods like protein bars, fiber bars, and low-carb or low-fat snack foods often contain highly processed food additives, excessive amounts of sodium, and added sugar. Research has shown that ultra-processed foods now comprise more than half of the average American’s diet, which contributes to hypertension and coronary artery disease (CAD), diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.
Tips for heart healthy eating
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet for heart health, but there are some basic ingredients for maintaining a heart healthy diet. Consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and limiting saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars are all ways you can begin to eat for improved heart health.
The following are some additional tips for incorporating some of these “ingredients” into a heart healthy diet that works with your lifestyle:
- Track what you eat, even if it’s only for a couple of weeks, you may be surprised at the results and may even discover that just a few simple tweaks are needed to be on track with a heart healthy diet.
- Be mindful of your macros (macronutrients). This one seems pretty complicated, right? But it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as making sure each meal contains three things: a healthy fat (olive oil, avocado oil, etc), a lean protein (chicken, fish, or lean beef), and a carbohydrate (vegetables, whole grains, etc.). For more information on this one, check out our post on macronutrients vs. micronutrients.
- Follow a plan. You don’t have to do it alone! For some ideas on diets, you can explore our blog on types of diets.
- Cook in bulk. If you’re going to spend the time cooking, why not make it last? This one is a great tip for reducing reliance on prepackaged and processed foods. A slow cooker is the perfect tool for this. For some fun recipes that will save you time and boost your heart health, visit our post on slow cooker recipes.
Understanding misconceptions about heart healthy diets is key. Not all fats are bad, low-fat doesn’t always mean healthy, and portion control matters. Processed foods aren’t just junk foods; even some health foods can be highly processed and packed with additives.
Tracking your food intake, being mindful of your macros, following a plan, and cooking in bulk to reduce reliance on processed foods are ways you can take steps toward a heart healthy diet today. A heart healthy diet is crucial for your overall well-being as it reduces the risk of heart disease, strokes, and other cardiovascular issues.