Making Healthy Changes

How to Get Started on a Heart Smart Diet

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Who says a healthy diet should be boring or leave you feeling unsatisfied? If you think a eating healthy translates to a little more than ho-hum salad greens or bland food, you’ve got it all wrong. In fact, learning how to take the first steps to eating better might be simpler than you think.

Not only does a healthy diet promote good heart health, but it can also protect you against some serious health conditions including:

Registered dietitian Darlene Zimmerman recommends a diet centered around heart health, like Henry Ford’s Heart Smart® diet, for anyone – whether you’re trying to eat better after the diagnosis of a heart-related condition or if you are looking to improve your health in general.

“What’s good for your heart is also good from the rest of your body,” says Zimmerman. “By adjusting your diet to focus on leaner proteins, healthier grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables, you are promoting a healthy lifestyle change that also aims to prevent and control conditions such as heart disease and others.”

What Does It Mean to be Heart Smart?

“So much about your heart health is based upon factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol,” says Zimmerman. “With heart-healthy diets, you are focusing on not only eating right, but also cutting back on foods that are high in bad fats and sodium.”

Eating healthy for your heart doesn’t mean you have to completely cut out foods you love. Instead it focuses on introducing healthier foods into your diet – like fruits and vegetables – while reducing your intake of sodium, processed foods and excess sugars. This type of clean eating allows you to have some freedom in your diet, which will ultimately help you stick to it for the long term.

Taking the First Steps: The Do’s and Don’ts of a Heart-Healthy Diet

Before you think about cleaning out your cabinets and fridge to make room for health foods, consider the do’s and don’ts Zimmerman offers to her patients as they begin to adopt the Heart Smart® diet:

DO

  1. Keep it lean. You can still enjoy your favorite meats but pay attention to the cut. Try looking for cuts with less fat such as pork or beef loin, leg of lamb or beef round. When buying poultry, white meat is a healthier choice than dark meat. Remember, a healthy meat portion is about 3-4 ounces or the size of a deck of cards.
  1. Experiment with color. Fruits and vegetables should make up half your plate at every meal – either cooked or raw. Take this opportunity to try things you haven’t before. If you are looking for different ways to incorporate fruits and veggies into your diet, try combining them together in a hearty soup, a colorful salad or smoothie.
  1. Eat more seafood. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is recommended to eat at least 8 ounces of seafood a week (about two fish meals). Try to select seafood that is known for its healthy fats such as salmon, tuna or mackerel.

DON’T

  1. Dive right in. If you completely change your lifestyle too quickly, you risk getting burned out. One of the best ways to succeed with your diet is to see where you can make simple changes in your day-to-day life and then gradually add more. When it comes to eating healthier, try these simple swaps:
    • Whole-grain bread instead of white or wheat bread
    • Low-fat yogurt and milk instead of higher fat alternatives
    • Olive or canola oil instead of butter or shortening
  1. Lose focus. Changing your diet takes time and effort. It requires you to think about your food choices before you eat. “Planning meals ahead of time can be extremely helpful,” says Zimmerman. “Stay on track by planning a grocery list at the beginning of the week to keep you focused on purchasing only the healthy items you need.” In addition to your diet, get your body on track by setting aside time to exercise. Don’t worry – once these extra efforts become part of your everyday routine, it’ll become much easier!
  1. Eat out too much. If you think eating out is the best solution when you’re short on time, think again. Consuming fast food or food at a restaurant – even if it seems healthy – may be doing more harm than good. These foods are often high sodium and larger portions than recommended. Instead, try to cook as home as much as you can. Not only will you save money, but you can monitor your portions and sodium intake more. If you’re looking to add more favor to dishes, try different sodium-free seasonings.

Related Topic: Is Winter More Deadly for Your Heart?

“Making changes to lifestyle habits is no easy task, so take it easy on yourself,” says Zimmerman. “Remember, small changes add up to the biggest health rewards.” 

To make an appointment with your doctor to talk about your heart health or to find a registered dietitian, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). 

Keep your heart healthy with these Heart Smart® recipes ideas. You can also find recipes and nutrition advice in our EatWell section.

Darlene Zimmerman is a registered dietitian the Henry Ford Heart & Vascular Institute and the author of the Heart Smart Cookbook, now in its third edition with more than 100,000 copies sold nationwide.

Heart Smart® is a registered trademark of the Henry Ford Heart & Vascular Institute.