3 Easy Ways to Eat Heart Smart: ‘You Don’t Have to Have a Perfect Diet’

it’s summer time. Warmer temperatures, beach vacations and backyard barbecue season. But before you load up that plate with a big greasy burger and a thick scoop of potato salad, take a minute to think about your heart because what you eat has a direct effect on your health. Heart Brains.

“Nutrition is probably the most powerful thing you can do to prevent and treat coronary heart disease,” Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Yahoo Life. “There’s a lot of good research that says that if you eat a certain way you can significantly reduce your risk of heart attack.”

Fatty, high cholesterol foods make a Plaque of lethal making deadly inside your arteries. The body tries to fight this plaque by inflammation. over time, it chronic inflammation Those pieces of plaque can rupture, get stuck in your blood vessels and eventually block blood flow. Here’s the good news: You can help prevent all of these from happening by watching what you eat.

And it’s never too early to start eating a healthy diet. “Heart disease is a disease that really begins in childhood,” Christine RosenbloomProfessor Emerita, professor of nutrition at Georgia State University, tells Yahoo Life. “You can start to build up junk or plaque in your arteries during your teen years and into your young adult years.” But Rosenbloom says that even those with a family history of heart disease can often override or reverse those genetics by eating more heart-healthy foods.

So where do you start? At first, you don’t have to throw everything out in your kitchen, but it’s a good idea to take a look at your overall eating habits. Rosenbloom says that making small and manageable changes will lead to greater success in the long run. “You really want to have this as a dietary pattern,” Rosenbloom says. “No one food will protect you, so you have to put it in the context of your overall diet.”

And you don’t have to break the bank either. “You don’t have to buy organic or non-GMO or gluten-free to keep heart healthy,” says Rosenbloom. “Just find the things you love and start adding them to your diet.”

Try these three easy, expert-recommended ways to eat heart smart:

#1 Eat More Plants

Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that help keep your arteries free of plaque buildup. (Photo: Getty)

Some of the easiest and most affordable items to add to your menu are fruits and vegetables. “Plants have amazing health benefits,” Dr. Taz Bhatia, a board-certified physician specializing in immune support and wellness, tells Yahoo Life. They contain antioxidants like vitamins A, B and C, which help keep your arteries free of plaque buildup.

Bhatia explains that plaque builds up when cholesterol “becomes super sticky and then attaches to the sides of our blood vessels, increasing our risk of heart disease.” “The antioxidants come in and they stop that whole process from happening, keep the blood vessels nice and open and keep that plaque from building up.”

Bhatia suggests aiming for a rainbow of produce on your plate to get the most out of it. “Beets, for example, are high in folate and vitamin C,” she says. “Spinach and kale also have an A and a C. And then our carrots have beta carotene, and they have a lot of vitamin A, all of which help protect the heart.”

When you’re adding more colorful vegetables and fruits to your plate, try replacing your beef or poultry with a couple servings of fish or seafood. “Eating fish only two to three times a week reduces the risk of all chronic diseases, but also heart disease by about 20 percent,” says Rosenbloom. “Fish contains healthy omega 3s, and is a very lean source of protein.”

Another good option: Beans. Be it dried lentils or canned peas, beans are one of the most economical sources of potassium and fiber – both of which help lower your blood pressure. “Blood pressure occurs when the heart’s blood vessels begin to constrict and thicken, making it harder for the heart to get blood and oxygen,” Bhatia explains. “And we know that high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease.”

#2 Change your salt

Pink Himalayan salt contains less sodium than table salt.  (Photo: Getty)

Pink Himalayan salt contains less sodium than table salt. (Photo: Getty)

“I know how hard it is, but kicking the table salt is the key to preventing heart disease,” says Bhatia. The popular spice actually constricts your blood vessels and, in turn, reduces the amount of blood and oxygen reaching your heart. But it’s not just a problem with the salt shaker sitting on your table – biggest sodium hazard Found in processed foods such as bread, pizza and fast food sandwiches. Some of these foods contain more than 100 percent of the recommended 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

“When we reduce salt, we actually help the blood vessels relax,” Bhatia says. According to Bhatia, it also increases the flow of blood to the heart and brings down the overall blood pressure. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on salt altogether. Bhatia suggests using “high-quality salt” that contains less sodium than table salt, such as pink Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt.

#3 Have some dark chocolate

Eating dark chocolate can actually help to relax the blood vessels and keep them flexible.  (Photo: Getty)

Eating dark chocolate can actually help to relax the blood vessels and keep them flexible. (Photo: Getty)

To ease the pain of cutting back on some of your favorite processed foods, try some dark chocolate. Varieties containing at least 70 percent cocoa help your body release nitric oxide. This powerful compound actually relaxes the blood vessels and keeps them flexible. Just be sure to check the label to see if the chocolate has been processed with alkali. This so-called “Dutch process” destroys chocolate’s healthy plant compounds that help reduce inflammation.

As you make these changes to your eating habits, remember to be comfortable on yourself. “You don’t have to have a perfect diet—it’s the sum of all the parts,” says Angelone, “It’s okay to enjoy your food.”

video produced by produced Jackie Cosgrove

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