It is clear as crystal – your diet has a profound effect on your physical and mental health. When combined with a regular physical exercise routine, adequate sleep and minimal-stress lifestyle, you pave way towards a long and healthy life!
In terms of cardiovascular health, it is a well-known fact that a healthy diet comprising of certain heart-friendly foods work wonders to keep heart diseases at bay. With cardiovascular diseases being the numero uno killer of men and women globally, it is important to maintain a healthy heart by consuming foods that help lower cholesterol levels, control blood pressure and blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy body weight. Here are a few heart-healthy diet tips that work towards preventing heart diseases.

1. Control your portion size
Eating right begins with eating the right size! Stuffing yourself with food is a sure way to add unwanted calories. Try using a small plate to control your portion size. Incorporate larger portions of fruits and vegetables, while lowering the portions of processed foods. It is a good idea to track the number of portions or servings that you consume. For starters, use a measuring cup, spoon or scale to track the size and weight of your servings.

2. Reduce unhealthy fats
Saturated and trans fats increase the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol – Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) – in your body, thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Work towards limiting or entirely cutting out trans fats from your diet. Limit your consumption of processed or packaged foods such as chips and cookies. Replace solid fats such as butter and hydrogenated margarine with liquid vegetable oils such as olive oil or sunflower oil. You can also swap whole milk with low fat or skimmed milk.

3. Incorporate healthy fats
Not all fats are bad for you! Omega 3 fatty acids, Omega 6 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats work towards increasing HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol levels that are good for the heart. Fatty fish such as salmon, trout and herring are rich sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Vegetable oils and soy nuts are great sources of Omega 6 fatty acids, while peanuts, pecans, almonds, cashews and avocados are good sources of monounsaturated fats. A simple way to add healthy fat to your diet is to grind flaxseed and add it to cereals, breakfast mixes or any baked foods. However, the key is moderation; all types of fats have a high calorie count.

4. Consume low-fat proteins
Lean meats such as poultry and fish, eggs and low-fat dairy products such as skimmed milk are excellent sources of low-fat protein. As previously mentioned, fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel are rich sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Alternatively, you can consume flaxseed, canola oil, walnuts and soybeans for vegetarian sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. You can completely substitute animal protein for plant protein by using legumes such as beans, lentils and peas. These are good sources of protein, contain less fat and no cholesterol.

5. Indulge in fruits and vegetables
Besides being super-rich sources of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables are low on calories and may curb your pangs for high-fat foods such as processed foods and snacks. Always keep a bowl of fruit or a box of cut vegetables handy in the refrigerator for some healthy snacking, or to whip up a fresh salad! Incorporate vegetables, especially leafy vegetables, into your cooking. Add legumes such as beans, lentils and beans to your diet. Carrots, tomatoes and celery are rich in insoluble fibre while berries, citrus fruits, beans, nuts, apples and pears are rich in soluble fibre. Both types of fibre are heart-healthy.

6. Be a fan of whole grains!
Whole grains are rich sources of fibre and other vital nutrients that help in regulating blood pressure, thereby maintaining a healthy heart. Substitute white rice and refined flour products such as white bread, biscuits and so on with whole wheat flour, whole grain bread, oatmeal, high-fibre cereals, and whole grains such as brown rice.

7. Reduce your sodium intake
High sodium levels can increase your blood pressure, thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Limit your sodium intake by reducing the amount of salt and salty foods in your diet. Avoid foods and condiments with high sodium content such as table salt, canned soups and foods, soy sauce and tomato juice. Replace them with herbs and spices, low sodium labelled foods and sauces and salt substitutes.
Besides following a heart-healthy diet, it is important to lead a stress-free life, combined with adequate physical activity and regulated sleep to keep your body energised, your mind fresh and your heart ever-healthy!

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