Start by filling your cart with lots of fruits and veggies, which are naturally mostly fat-free
GLENDALE, CA -- July 8, 2011 -- A trip to the grocery store is more than just a mission to stock your kitchen. Consider each march up and down the aisles an opportunity to help keep your heart healthy.
"Studies have consistently shown that what you eat has an impact on your heart health," says Tamar Apelian, registered dietician and manager of Nutrition Services at Glendale Adventist Medical Center.
In fact, healthy eating is one of the most powerful ways to help avoid the nation's biggest killer.
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A heart-healthy diet starts with limiting saturated fat and trans fat and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, Apelian says.
Saturated fat is found mostly in animal foods; trans fat can be found in processed baked or snack goods. And both raise blood cholesterol, which can clog your arteries.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains, on the other hand, can help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and provide nutrients that help protect against heart disease.
According to Apelian and other experts, the following shopping strategies can help you select foods that fit the menu of a heart-healthy diet:
Linger in the produce aisle. Start by filling your cart with lots of fruits and veggies, which are naturally mostly fat-free.
"It's important to spend a lot of time in the fresh produce section," Apelian says. "This is where most of the heart healthy foods are. Look for dark or bright colored veggies and fruits. The more color it has, the more nutrients you're going to get."
Varying your choices is a good way to get plenty of nutrients; heart-friendly fiber; and potassium, which can help with blood pressure control. (High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease.)
And if you sometimes want frozen vegetables instead of fresh, be sure to look for ones that aren't in a sauce, Apelian says.
Think lean protein. When you're shopping for beef, search for cuts marked as choice or select. If it's poultry you're looking for, check out the leaner meats, such as chicken or turkey breasts. Salmon and other fatty fish are good choices too, because they have heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids.
For a meatless protein, beans are a healthy option-and they're high in fiber. So are nuts and seeds, which contain heart-friendly unsaturated fats. But enjoy nuts and seeds in moderation, since they're also high in calories.
Select low-fat dairy. "Full fat dairy, even when used in moderation, adds up quickly," says Apelian. "Look for low-fat or fat-free options, whether it's milk, cheese or yogurt."
And what about dairy treats, such as ice cream? It's OK to enjoy them every once in a while. To help satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthier way, give frozen fruit bars a try.
Home in on whole grains. Go for fiber-rich whole-grain breads, pastas, rice and cereals, such as oatmeal.
Choose your fats carefully. When selecting fats for cooking and eating, choose ones that are good for your heart. For instance, pick unsaturated fats, such as olive or canola oil, instead of saturated fats, such as butter. Look for soft margarines that have no trans fat.
Be careful when buying baked goods. Snacks and treats like doughnuts, cookies and pies often have a lot of trans fat.
Once you've stocked up on heart-healthy foods, it's just as important to prepare them in heart-friendly ways, particularly with less fat. Try these cooking tips from Apelian and the American Heart Association:
Bake, broil or grill meats on a rack so that the fat drips away.
Use lemon juice or spices instead of fat-filled sauces to add flavor to foods.
Sauté or stir-fry with a tiny amount of canola or peanut oil.
Remove visible fat from meats and the skin from poultry before cooking or eating.