Eating for a Healthy Heart, Step 1
Eat more vegetables and fruits! When you look at types of ‘diets’ that have been shown to decrease risk for heart attack and stroke, they all include lots of vegetables and fruits. Two examples are the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet and the Mediterranean Diet. Both have been shown to significantly decrease heart disease and both stress the importance of eating lots of vegetables and fresh fruits. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan; https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801 You do not have to follow a specific ‘diet’ to improve your heart health, but you do want to eat the healthy foods that have been proven to reduce risk for heart disease.
Lots of research shows the benefits of eating a lot of vegetables and fruits. We cannot just take supplements, drink juices or add powdered greens to foods to get the benefits of eating whole vegetables and fruits. Research has shown over and over again that eating vegetables and fruits decreases heart disease and many other diseases, but supplements do not have the same effect.
Vegetables help keep your heart and blood vessels healthy because of their high concentration of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, especially potassium. Eating lots of potassium in foods has been shown to decrease blood pressure. Other nutrients in vegetables called “phyto-nutrients” also play a role in making are hearts and blood vessels healthy as well as helping prevent eye disease and many cancers. Vegetables are not only high in nutrients, they are low in calories; eating a lot of them helps fill us up without causing us to gain weight. We should all aim for at least 5 servings of vegetables each day, some research suggests that eating far more vegetables has further benefits to our health. One serving of vegetables = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw.
Fruits are also sources of many vitamins, minerals (including potassium) and antioxidants and fiber. Fruits are higher in calories than vegetables but much lower in calories than any typical snack food! For example: a typical granola bar contains 180 to 220 calories, while a medium sized apple, orange or peach contains only about 90 calories and a very large apple, orange or peach contains only about 150 calories–what is going to fill you up more and give you more vitamins and minerals–a granola bar or a piece of fruit? Fruits are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth, and need little preparation before eating. We should all aim for at least 2 servings of fruit each day. One serving is a medium sized piece of fruit or 1 cup of diced fruit or berries.
How to Eat More Vegetables and Fruits:
Increasing vegetables and fruits takes some planning! Here are some ideas to get more of them in your life:
- Buy a raw veggie platter at the grocery store; add a handful of raw veggies to lunch and dinner and have a few when you want a snack.
- Buy bags of frozen vegetables. Heat one cup per person in the microwave to go with whatever you are preparing for dinner. Add frozen veggies to premade soups, macaroni and cheese, etc.
- Buy prewashed raw spinach or other greens and add them to scrambled eggs, soups, casseroles
- Order a green salad whenever you go out for lunch or dinner.
- Order sliced tomatoes in place of hash brown or fried potatoes when you go out for breakfast.
- Buy pre washed lettuce and cherry tomatoes to mix together for a quick green salad.
- Buy fresh fruit that is in season (it is less expensive and tastes better than fruit that is not in season), add fruit to meals and snacks and eat in place of dessert.
- Buy frozen berries and other fruit when they are not in season; use them as topping for yogurt, cereal, pancakes, ice cream, cake–desserts that contain fruit are healthier than those that don’t.
Eating 5 servings of veggies and 2 servings of fruit per day may sound daunting; but is not impossible. Here are some menu ideas:
- Cereal topped with plain Greek yogurt, almonds and 1 cup fresh or frozen berries (thaw in microwave to bring juice out). ~1 serving fruit
- Scrambled eggs, omelette or frittata made with 1 cup raw or frozen chopped vegetables , plus whole grain toast and a piece of fruit. ~1 serving vegetable AND 1 serving fruit.
- Sandwich with 2 leaves of romaine or green leaf lettuce + 1 cup of vegetable soup. ~1 1/2 servings vegetable
- Large green salad topped with 1 cup of kidney, black or garbanzo beans, and 1/2 can tuna or salmon + whole grain crackers. ~2-3 servings vegetable
- Afternoon snack:
- Raw veggies with hummus. ~ 1 serving vegetable
- Piece of fruit. ~ 1 serving fruit
- Spaghetti with 2 cups sauce made with canned tomatoes and/or tomato paste or tomato puree, bell pepper, onion, garlic, mushrooms as well as your choice of ground meat or lean Italian sausage + a large green salad (2 cups lettuce + carrots, cauliflower, cucumber and tomato–whatever you like), topped with your favorite salad dressing. ~3+ servings vegetable.
- Black beans cooked with onion, bell peppers, garlic and spices over brown rice, topped with 2 cups chopped lettuce and tomato + grated cheese and salsa. ~2-3 servings vegetable.
- Chicken, fish or meat + sweet potato + 1 cup cooked veggies. ~2 servings vegetable
- Dessert or evening snack:
- Wedge of melon, piece of fruit, or cup of berries and a small cookie or piece of cake. ~1 serving fruit.
Any combination of these menu ideas adds up to at least 5 servings vegetable and 2 servings fruit. This may be more than you can imagine eating right now, but start slowly. Try adding one vegetable or fruit/day to your eating for a week; then increase that to 2 servings vegetable or fruit each day. If you gradually increase, you will soon be meeting recommended goals! For ideas on getting your kids to eat more vegetables, see the post below.