Your heart is basically the engine of your body. It pumps blood every second of every day, never pausing to rest, and never letting you down. If you treat it right, it’ll keep you going for a very long time, and as long as you’re mindful about your health, it will stay strong.
And yet, statistics say that 1 in every 4 deaths in America is related to cardiovascular diseases. More prevalent in men than women, it’s a serious issue that can be far more difficult to manage than it is to prevent. Luckily, prevention is simple enough, and one of the best things you can do for your health is to have a healthy diet. Interested in what you need to eat? Then take a look at our nutrition tips and start planning your meals.
Figure out how many calories you need
The number of calories you need depends on your age, physical activity level, and your weight. Most adult men need about 2200-2500 calories a day for maintenance, but if you’re overweight you’ll need to cut down to 1800-2000 calories per day to lose 1 pound per week, or 1500-1800 calories a day to lose 2 pounds. These are merely general guidelines, and if you want to get more specific you should talk to your doctor or use a calorie calculator that will take your activity levels into consideration.
Weight maintenance is extremely important for heart health because obesity can lead to a whole slew of cardiovascular problems—high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and diseases such as diabetes. From constant shortness of breath to having your arteries and blood vessels clogged, excess pounds can impact your life in very negative ways.
To make it a little easier to stick to your diet plan, it’s always a good idea to start a food journal—write down everything you eat and how many calories it had, and that way you’ll be more aware of just how much food you really need. Most of us have no idea whether what we ingest has any nutritional value at all, and it’s easy to overeat and miss your goals because of it.
Eat more fruit and veggies
Once you’ve figured out how many calories you need, it’s important to know that not all calories are made the same. You could be eating very little but if your meals mostly consist of junk food, you still won’t get very far. The thing you should put at the top of your nutritional pyramid are vegetables—leafy greens such as spinach and kale are your best bet because they’re chock-full of vitamin K, which helps protect your arteries and prevents blood clotting. Tomatoes are similarly nutritious, and so are beans, garlic, and onions. They are also full of anti-oxidants that will further protect your health.
The next on the list is fruit, particularly blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. They’ve been shown to improve the function of cells that line our blood vessels, and they can reduce inflammations in our body and improve our LDL cholesterol levels. Besides, berry fruit is incredibly tasty and can be eaten as a very filling snack, so there’s no doubt it will be one part of your diet that you can fully enjoy.
Make sure you’re getting enough CoQ10
Coenzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance that helps our body convert food into energy. A powerful antioxidant and an important factor when it comes to our heart health, it protects us from oxidative stress and ensures our organs function well. Its levels tend to drop as we age, but luckily studies suggest that supplements can benefit those who experience cardiovascular issues. They can lower the level of inflammatory biomarkers and reduce our blood pressure, improve heart muscle function, and reduce the risk of developing a stroke. Since they are fat-soluble, CoQ10 supplements are best absorbed when taken with meals, and if you start using them regularly it could lead to a significant improvement. You can also find it in foods like beef, fatty fish, and legumes, but in much smaller amounts.
Stick to whole grains
There are two types of grains—whole grains and refined grains. The latter are the ones that have been ground into flour, which results in the bran and germ being removed. This means less vitamin B and less fiber, and these are the ones you can find in wheat flour, rice, and white bread. Whole grains, on the other hand, have the bran, germ, and endosperm, so most of the nutritional value is still there. Since it has so much fiber in it, it’s a much better choice for anyone who’s trying to improve their cardiovascular health because fiber has been proven to reduce cholesterol levels. As an added bonus, it also keeps you full—you’ll lessen those food cravings and make it easier to maintain your weight.
Skip red meat
We eat far too much meat. It’s quite a recent thing, too—at no other point in history has eating meat 1-2 times a day been considered a normal thing to do for the humankind, and while it can be very beneficial to stock up on protein, it can also harm our heart. Red meat is the biggest culprit because it’s high in saturated fats and it can increase your LDL cholesterol faster than anything else. Some scientists believe it also increases your chance of developing cancer, so reducing your intake can actually solve a lot of your problems. Of course, the key here is moderation—you don’t have to go vegan, and you don’t have to cut out red meat entirely. Relying on chicken and fish for your protein is already a step in the right direction, and cutting out processed meats such as sausages, burgers, ham, bacon, and salami is even better. If you’re really craving red meat, go for a quality steak.
Avoid unhealthy fats
An average adult needs about 20-35% of fat in their diet, but which fats you pick is an important distinction. Saturated and trans fats lead to a build-up of plaques in our arteries, causing them to clog up and develop a condition called atherosclerosis. This can cause your cholesterol to skyrocket and increase your risk of stroke. So, instead of relying on butter, margarine, and lard, use healthier substitutes for cooking—olive or canola oil.
Now, the fats that you definitely do want in your diet are monounsaturated fats which can be found in avocados, cheese, dark chocolate, nuts, fatty fish, eggs, and yogurt. These foods are usually full of vitamin E, and they can help lower your cholesterol and supply your body with much-needed energy.
While our kidneys bear the brunt of a high-sodium diet, having too much of this mineral can still severely increase your blood pressure. Stay away from canned soup, frozen dinners, and simple table salt. It might take a little getting used to, but food without salt can taste even better.
Cut down on alcohol
Despite what folktales say, booze isn’t all that good for our heart, especially not in excess. Alcohol intake leads to an increase in triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and it also has a lot of calories so it can easily mess up your whole diet. However, red wine does have some benefits when it comes to cardiovascular disease prevention. As long as you take it in moderation, it could be good for you.
Given that all these rules probably sound very limiting, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to do this alone, and you don’t have to do it all at once. Working with a nutritionist and planning your meals in advance will make it easier to manage the logistics of food preparation, and you should also leave some room for an occasional treat. Combine your diet with exercise, abstain from smoking and alcohol, and you can make your heart a lot healthier, and your life longer and easier.
Luke is a fitness and health blogger at Ripped.me and a great fan of the gym and a healthy diet. He follows the trends in fitness, gym and healthy life and loves to share his knowledge through useful and informative articles.