Nutrition guidelines are important, but they can change as time goes by. In recent years, scientists have uncovered some important facts about how foods and eating habits can influence health in different ways—and some dietary trends may harm your heart more than they can help it. You might be wondering what old rules still stand: Is butter good or bad? Should you cut out carbs for a longer life? How about going vegan? Here’s a breakdown of what a heart-healthy approach to your menu might look like.
The Cardiac Diet
Simply put, a cardiac diet is an eating plan designed to limit the stress that some food can put on your heart. You might have heard of the Mediterranean Diet or the American Heart Association (AHA) diet. The DASH diet is another popular plan—it stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension”. They all have some things in common, including:
- Low salt
- Low fat
- High-fiber grains
- More fresh produce
- Less red meat
- Alcohol in moderation
At its core, a heart-healthy diet avoids certain foods: those that cause high blood pressure (like salt) and plaque buildup in your arteries (like fat). It also prioritizes fresh, whole foods over processed and refined.
Given all the different heart-healthy ingredients out there, and the various ways to combine them, it can help to think in terms of heart-healthy patterns, rather than specific dishes.
Steaming over frying
When you fry food, it not only cooks in the oil, it absorbs some oil—and that adds calories. Steaming is a much healthier way to cook your food, since it preserves a lot of the nutrients and doesn’t add any extra calories.
If you’re missing the crispy, crunchy texture of fried food, try breading fish or vegetables with panko crumbs and baking on a pan lined with parchment paper.
Vegetable oils over animal
If you do cook with oil, there are two facts to keep in mind: not all oils are created equal and you need a lot less than you think.
Go for heart-healthy fats, like polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, which you’ll find in olive oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil. Avoid coconut oil (it’s high in saturated fat) and animal fats, and only add enough to lightly coat the pan.
Broth over dairy
Dairy products are generally very high in fat, and unless you opt for skim or nonfat milk and cheese, you may want to find a dairy alternative. There’s more choice than you might imagine, so if soy milk sounds unappetizing to you, try cashew or oat milk for a slightly creamier texture.
Low-sodium broth or stock is another good choice. A flavorful broth can be a good substitute for milk and cream in recipes like soups, sauces, and even gravies.
Fewer ingredients, more flavor
Instead of leaning on fat and salt for flavor, turn to savory plants and clever taste profiles. Stock your pantry with hardy herbs like rosemary, thyme, and tarragon. Add curry powders, powdered ginger, garlic, and (salt-free) spice rubs. Keep some fresh and fragrant herbs like parsley and basil in the fridge.
Now, instead of breading, saucing, or frying your meat or vegetables, finish with some complementary herbs and spices to liven up your food (without the need for fat or salt).
Embrace the freezer
You don’t have a lot of time to prepare meals—or even prepare the ingredients? No problem. With a bit of planning and some freezer space, you can get ahead of those dilemmas and stay on track.
It turns out frozen veggies are just as nutritious as fresh veggies (maybe even more nutritious), so there’s no reason to shy away from the freezer aisle. You can also portion out and freeze fresh vegetables for later, and why not double up on your recipes and put half of each in the freezer?
A Marathon, Not A Sprint
Before making adjustments to your diet, it’s important to consult with your doctor or a dietitian. Any big shift in eating habits can be difficult to stick with and may not be right for your body. After talking with your doctor, it may be a good idea to make small modifications and give your body and taste buds time to appreciate the improvements you’re making to your menu.