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- Harvard School of Public Health: Vegetables and Fruits: Get Plenty Every Day
- American Heart Association: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- American Heart Association: Sodium
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Your cardiovascular system is an important and fragile group of structures that pumps nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. At the center of this system is your heart. The foods you choose to consume on a daily basis can affect the health of your heart. Choosing the right foods can make a difference in living a long and healthy life or being faced with the prospect of a heart attack or heart disease as your body ages.
All diets should include fats; however, not all fats are good for you. Your body needs lipids to function, especially at the cellular level. Unfortunately, foods high in unhealthy fats and cholesterol can have a devastating effect on your heart. Foods high in unhealthy fats and cholesterol can cause the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels, particularly your arteries. Over time, this buildup can cause a block in the blood vessels, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the block as well as causing the vessel itself to lose its flexibility. This can cause a variety of health problems, including heart disease, heart attack and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, you should aim for a diet that includes a variety of fats 23. Saturated fats should make up no more than 7 percent of your daily caloric intake; cholesterol should not exceed 300 milligrams per day; and trans fats should make up no more than 1 percent of your daily calorie intake.
The amount of fruits and vegetables you choose to consume each day can also have an affect on your heart. Vegetables and fruits are full of the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to operate, especially your heart. One additional benefit to making produce a large percentage of your daily diet is its substantial fiber content. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces your risks for heart disease 1.
The types of proteins you choose to consume can also have an affect on your heart health. Consuming large portions or cuts of meat with high fat contents can contribute to the buildup of cholesterol in the blood. Opting for low-fat protein sources, such as chicken or legumes, can help reduce your overall intake of saturated fats and cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, choosing protein sources such as fish give the added heart health benefit of omega-3s 23. Omega-3 is a heart-healthy form of fat, which can lower the overall triglyceride levels in your blood. This reduces your risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Carbohydrates are also an important part of any diet. When the right carbohydrates, such as those made from whole grains, are chosen, they can play a part in your heart health. Whole grain products contain high amounts of fiber. Like the fiber found in produce products, whole grain can also help reduce your cholesterol levels, helping prevent problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the 2012 issue of the "Journal of Nutrition." The fiber from whole grains has the added benefit of helping you feel fuller longer. This can increase your chances of successfully maintaining a healthy weight.
Sodium and Heart Health
If your goal is a healthy heart, you need to limit your sodium intake. Excess sodium holds fluid in the body and makes your heart work harder, which in turn increases your blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association 23. It also raises your risk for heart failure, kidney disease, osteoporosis and stroke. Avoiding processed and canned foods will help you reduce your sodium intake. The AHA recommends that you aim for no more than 1,500 milligrams per day, although the recommendation for healthy individuals, set by the Institute of Medicine, is 2,300 milligrams per day 4.
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