I decided to make some changes to my diet after I had a heart attack at the age of 38. I wanted to keep my heart healthy and live a healthier lifestyle. I realized the foods I ate played an essential role.
Here are six changes that I made to my eating habits that helped me to maintain the heart-healthy diet my doctor recommended.
Research restaurants before you go
High blood pressure can harm your heart and increase your risk of heart attack. But lowering your sodium intake can help lower your blood pressure.
I had high blood pressure before my heart attack. My doctor required me to reduce my sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day.
This was quite difficult! I don’t always like cooking at home, and many restaurant and prepared foods are higher in sodium because it’s an inexpensive way to enhance flavors.
I knew I’d have to tweak my restaurant habit if I wanted to eat less sodium on a daily basis. Especially since I didn’t want to be stuck just ordering salads all the time when dining out. And even with many salad ingredients and dressings, the sodium can really add up!
I now spend a lot of time researching online menus and nutrition facts before I go out to eat. That way I can customize my orders to fill up on healthier foods with less sodium. A few of my favorite tricks to avoid a sodium trap:
- Order a salad or steamed veggies with no seasoning as your side.
- Request that your entree comes without additional seasoning, except maybe some lemon juice.
- Always get sauce on the side and use it sparingly.
Find low-sodium versions of your favorite foods
I quickly learned that it became easier to control my sodium by cooking at home.
You might be surprised at the number of low-sodium versions of your favorite foods. I found my favorite Jambalaya mix in a low-sodium option. I added more veggies than were called for in the instructions to ensure I got extra blood-pressure lowering potassium.
I also tried low-sodium recipes. Many were less flavorful, so I concocted some of my own recipes.
Many included whole wheat pasta or cauliflower rice loaded with veggies and a low-sodium soup mix for flavor. Adding herbs and spices that are salt-free and lemon, lime, or orange juice can really add interest to your favorite dishes.
Get creative with veggies
Tired of just salads? Add extra veggies to your favorite recipes.
Fresh, canned, and frozen fruits and vegetables can make everyday meals more interesting and nutritious. Be sure to choose the “no salt added” version of canned vegetables to keep sodium down.
If a recipe calls for 1 cup of green peppers, I add 2 or 3 cups of red, yellow, and green peppers. The dish will look and taste amazing.
Sometimes I add onions, carrots, spinach, or broccoli even if the dish doesn’t call for it. This works especially well in rice and pasta dishes.
Leave room for “treat” meals
A sustainable diet allows for some flexibility. There’s no way I could have sustained my new eating plan without having my favorite foods every once in a while. I give myself one treat meal a month where I can eat anything that I want (within reason).
I always try to drink more water and limit sugar-sweetened beverages.
Find little ways to cut back on saturated fats and trans-fats
I had high cholesterol even before my heart attack. My doctor advised me that saturated fats and trans-fats may raise the levels of LDL cholesterol (the artery clogging type) in the blood and that cutting back on these fats would improve my cholesterol levels.
Here are a few tips:
- Use liquid oils, such as olive or canola oil, in cooking instead of solid fats like shortening, lard, coconut, or palm oils.
- Bake, broil, grill, or steam instead of frying.
- Choose leaner cuts of meat and trim visible fat.
- Limit processed meats, such as hot dogs, salami, bacon, sausage, and bologna.
- Limit baked goods, such as donuts, cookies, and cakes, that contain trans-fats or hydrogenated fats.
- Look for non-dairy cheese and reduced-fat cheeses that work well in some recipes.
- Opt for low-fat or skim milk in your tea or coffee.
- Use soft tub margarines with no trans-fat or hydrogenated vegetable oils listed on the label.
Get creative in the kitchen
A fun way to avoid getting bored on a new healthy eating plan is to always try new recipes. Sometimes I find ideas online. Sometimes I come up with my own.
Don’t hesitate to play with the ingredients. I never use salt and always add extra veggies, and I experiment with a variety of herbs and spices for interesting flavors. I also like to substitute cauliflower rice for white rice.
Small changes like these really add up.
Healthy eating is key to heart health. Finding ways to make it different and fun can help you change your eating habits for the long haul to be more heart healthy.
There’s no doubt that changing eating habits can be difficult. Hang in there!
Hopefully these tips will encourage you to make some simple changes in your daily eating.
For more information on how to manage heart disease, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.
NPS-US-NP-00641 MAY 2020