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Keep your heart in shape

According to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, over 1.3 million Canadians are living with heart disease. While many factors play into a person’s heart health, one of the first steps we can take to ward off heart disease is to adhere to a healthy diet and to incorporate foods that have shown to be beneficial to overall heart health. Most people can stick to a heart healthy diet by tweaking their existing eating habits. Here are some tips to keep your heart in shape:

  1. Sticking to a generally healthy diet
    It seems simple, but the basics of a heart healthy diet are the same as any healthy eating diet: pay attention to Canada’s Food Guide and control your portion sizes (i.e. don’t consume more calories than you can burn off). This means eating a variety of proteins, dairy products, and carbohydrates in moderation while making sure you get at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day (including at least one dark green vegetable and one orange vegetable).
  2. Pay attention to your blood pressure
    High blood pressure is a contributor to heart disease and adhering to a diet designed to reduce hypertension is a great idea if your blood pressure is not at a healthy level. This means controlling salt intake, increasing vegetable consumption, and reducing saturated fat and cholesterol-heavy foods. The best way to reduce salt and sodium in your diet is to avoid processed foods (which often contain more sodium than people realize) and substitute seasonings like lemon, garlic, and dried herbs for salt when cooking.
  3. Eat the right kinds of fat
    Cutting fat out of your diet entirely is neither possible nor healthy, but to keep your heart healthy you need to be able to identify which fats to avoid. Stick to moderate amounts of foods with monounsaturated fats (like almonds, cashews, avocados, and olive and canola oils) and seek out foods containing Omega-3 and other polyunsaturated fats (salmon, mackerel, flaxseed, and walnuts). Limit (or completely cut out) the saturated and trans fat in your diet, especially those found in heavily processed foods.
  4. Pack in some fibre
    The Heart and Stroke foundation recommends that adults get between 21 and 38 grams of fibre a day to maintain a healthy heart. Up your fibre intake by switching to whole-wheat bread, high-fibre cereals, and brown rice.
  5. Tips for eating out
    It’s relatively easy to keep your fibre and vegetables high and your salt and saturated fat low when you’re doing your own cooking, but how do you control what goes into your food when it is being prepared by a restaurant chef? If you’re going to a chain restaurant where nutritional information is posted either on the menu or online, take some time to check out what will work well with a heart-healthy diet. If not, choose meats that are described as being grilled or roasted on the menu (hence cooked with little added fat, as opposed to fried meats) and avoid anything that is battered or comes with a thick creamy sauce. It’s a good idea to also share an entrée with someone else or only allow yourself to eat half the meal (and take the rest home) since restaurant portions tend to be quite large.
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