Patient & Visitor InformationContact Us
  • Heart Health Starts With a Well-Planned Diet

  • Nancy Lavoie, RD, LDN, clinical nutrition supervisor, Newport Hospital

    heart health big

    The American Heart Association has identified multiple lifestyle factors that impact heart health — the majority of which can be directly related to what we eat. This statement should be empowering since we decide what we eat as well as how much.

    Yes, some theories on healthy eating have changed over time. For example, remember when eggs were bad for you? Then eggs were suddenly good for you — in moderation, of course. Lowfat diets were all the rage at some point, until we realized some fats are actually healthy. While fads come and go (and there is still no magic pill to counteract all the junk food we eat), there are certain messages that remain constant. Those messages are:

    1. Eat more fruits and vegetables
    2. Eat fewer processed and pre-packaged foods (this means you must learn how to cook or read nutrition fact labels) 
    3. Take the time to plan ahead

    Why eat more fruits and vegetables? The short answer is that they are low in calories, sodium and generally fat and they are high in fiber and are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables will fill you up, help control blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar and may even help prevent certain cancers.

    Why eat less processed and pre-packaged foods? The majority of foods that are purchased in boxes, cans or freezer bags have large amounts of sodium, saturated fat and sometimes sugar added to them (not to mention, assorted chemicals) that can all contribute to heart disease if consumed regularly. Start doing the majority of your grocery shopping at the perimeter of the stores (produce, meat and dairy aisles). Buying simple ingredients and cooking your own meals from scratch is the best way to control what goes into your food and inevitably what goes into your body.

    If you want to ease into this, the first step would be to pay attention to labels. Look for terms such as “no added salt.” Next, look at the nutrition facts label and identify the portion size and the milligrams of sodium. Ideally you want foods that have fewer than 140mg sodium per serving and have a goal of 1500mg to 2400mg total for the day.

    Now, turn your attention to the list of ingredients. You do not want to buy an item if hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils are listed. These are sources of trans fats, which are not healthy fats. Sources of healthy fats are olive oil, canola oil, unsalted nuts, and some fish, such as salmon, etc.

    If you think label reading is cumbersome or overwhelming, the American Heart Association has developed a heart check mark symbol to appear on the packaging of foods that meet specific criteria. The idea behind this symbol is to make it easier for people to identify heart-healthy foods. Not all items with red hearts on the packaging are from the American Heart Association, so be sure to look for the name within the symbol to be sure this food has met heart-healthy criteria.

    Why plan ahead? We are less likely to make impulse purchases such as going to the drive-thru on the way home from work or school or buying snacks from vending machines if we know we have healthy foods available to us at all times. Examples include keeping unsalted nuts, hard-boiled eggs, pre-washed fruits, pre-sliced vegetables or low-fat yogurt nearby when hunger or cravings strike.

    Another helpful tip is cooking large batches of food or multiple meals when you have free time.

    This way you are not turning to delivery or takeout during the week when you are tired and busy.

    Instead, you can simply reheat your home-cooked meal that is healthy and made with love.

    For more detailed information, meal plans, recipes and tips, contact a registered dietitian in your community. Other great resources include the American Heart Association and Academy of Nutrition of Dietetics.

    Originally published in the Newport Daily News. 

    Find Out More

    Recipes to get you started.