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Assortment of heart healthy foods in heart shaped bowls

The Best (And Worst) Foods For Heart Health

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, killing over 600,000 people every year. We must focus on heart health, especially as diabetics.

Having diabetes greatly increases risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. In fact, nearly 70% of diabetics age 65 and older die from some form of heart disease. Being heart smart is incredibly important!

You can help protect your heart by managing blood sugar levels and choosing the right heart-healthy foods. Research has shown that replacing unhealthy fats in one’s diet with healthy fats can reduce cholesterol levels and heart disease risk as much as prescription statin medications do!

It is crucial to choose the right healthy fats in order to reap these benefits. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are two “good fats.” These fats  lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, therefore, reducing risk of heart disease.

Monounsaturated fats are found in avocado, peanut butter, and olive oil. Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy fats and are also high in fiber. Research proves avocados reduce risk of hypertension, stroke, obesity, and other diseases.

Polyunsaturated fats, also known as omega-3 fatty acids, are found in walnuts, and in fish like salmon and mackerel. A handful of nuts is a great heart-healthy snack option. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans all contain the vitamins, minerals, and fats that contribute to heart health. A diet rich in omega fats improves cholesterol levels, decreases risk of heart failure and stroke, and lowers blood pressure.

Fermented foods like yogurt contain healthy bacteria that aid the body in several ways, from digestion to regulating cholesterol. Yogurt can reduce risk for heart disease, and kimchi helps reduce the risk of diabetes complications and obesity. Just make sure to choose full-fat yogurt to avoid added sugars.

Consuming foods with high fiber content can lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. High fiber foods also lower and help stabilize blood sugar. Fresh vegetables are one of the best ways to increase fiber intake, but fiber is present in all manner of foods.

Loaded with fiber and antioxidants, raspberries and blackberries top the list with more than 7 grams of fiber per cup. Blueberries are also a great source of vitamins and soluble fiber. In fact, studies show glucose levels reduce over time when blueberries are included in one’s diet.

Quinoa is another fiber-full favorite. A wide variety of whole grains contain fiber, but few pack as nutritious a punch as quinoa. Quinoa is easy to digest and gluten-free, while being high in other essential nutrients such as iron, vitamin B-6, potassium and magnesium.

When it comes to taking care of your heart, the biggest things to watch for are trans fats, salt and sugar. Any of these three can have a devastating effect on heart health.

Trans fats have no positive nutritional impact; instead they are highly dangerous to consume. They are often used to prolong the shelf life of many processed and packaged foods. They are also frequently used by fast food chains for deep frying. Trans fats are very bad news.

Moving on to salt and sugar, they are hiding in places you’d least expect! For example, a recent study revealed the top 5 saltiest foods in the U.S. These foods are responsible for nearly 44% of the salt most people consume on a daily basis: bread, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts/cured meats, and soup.

New research has found that Americans consume about 3,400 mg of salt daily. That’s more than double the American Heart Association’s “ideal” intake of 1,500 mg daily. A whopping 61% of the salt consumed daily in the U.S. comes from prepared foods and restaurant meals. The best way to reduce sodium is to avoid prepackaged, processed and prepared foods.

Some of the other foods included in the saltiest foods list were bacon, condiments like salad dressing and ketchup, French fries, cereal, cheeses, frozen dinners, seasoning mixes, and sauces like barbeque and Worcestershire.

Speaking of condiments, we come to our next heart-health offender… sugar! Americans love ketchup. Too bad it contains an astounding one teaspoon of sugar per squirt! Thousand Island, French, and Russian dressings all contain ketchup, and can contain 9-10 grams of sugar per two-tablespoon serving.

Try this Diabetic Kitchen recipe for a simple, homemade vinaigrette! Your favorite restaurants will likely offer oil and vinegar as a salad dressing option, just ask your server. (Always ask for dressings on the side so you can control the amount used.)

Sauces like barbecue and teriyaki add great flavor to meats, but sugar can account for an incredible 80 percent of the calories per serving. Just two tablespoons of barbecue sauce can contain up to 12 grams of sugar – that’s 3 teaspoons! Research recipes online for no sugar-added barbeque sauces and make your own.

Making heart-healthy food choices may seem tedious, but is of utmost importance. Maintaining stable blood sugar isn’t enough – you have to protect your heart, too. A happy, healthful life is within reach, but only you can make the choices necessary to achieve it!






One comment

  1. Patricia Cisneros Young

    What a wonderful job you’re doing in explaining how to be proactive about our health. Thank you very much! I really enjoyed reading the do’s and don’ts on heart health maintenance.

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