Each year The American Heart Association (AHA) releases a report titled the Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update. The 2015 report has some alarming statistics about our heart health, including that heart disease accounts for 1 in 7 deaths in the U.S. It also states that less than 1 percent of U.S. adults meet the AHA’s definition for an “Ideal Healthy Diet.”
What are you doing to stay healthy? Here are three proactive changes you can make to help prevent heart disease, diabetes and other diet-related conditions.
1. Search for Hidden Sugars
Sweets aren’t the only foods that contain sugars. Did you know a tablespoon of ketchup has more sugar than a chocolate chip cookie? A high-sugar diet can be a significant factor in developing diabetes and other diseases caused by poor nutrition. And sadly, 1.7 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Here are a few ways to reduce excess sugar in your diet:
• Choose whole foods over processed items and fresh fruits over dried fruits.
• Read the label on everything. Many common foods contain corn syrup, even savory options you wouldn’t suspect like cheese crackers. Read the label on every item before adding it to the cart.
• Research the glycemic index of fruits and vegetables. Even healthy snacks like grapes and carrots can spike your blood sugar. Harvard Medical School has a helpful glycemic index list for more than 100 common foods. Try to eat your fruit serving early in the day!
2. Cook at Home
Studies have shown that since the 1980s Americans cook less in the home and are eating out more. It’s not hard to understand why; longer hours at work, more parents in the workforce and the rising cost of groceries all contribute to fast food restaurants’ ongoing success. Though most of us know restaurant meals (and especially fast food) tend to be high in calories and low in nutrition.
The good news is cooking programs have been shown to effectively address the obesity epidemic. Cooking healthy meals with fresh ingredients allows you to take control of your diet and make smart choices. With a little planning and preparation you can drastically improve your overall diet by preparing meals at home.
3. Choose Foods that Prevent Heart Disease
For home cooking to be synonymous with healthy eating you still have to make smart choices at the grocery store. The Mayo Clinic cites the following foods as part of a heart-healthy diet:
• Steel cut oats
• Brown rice
• Olive oil
• Nut oils (almond, macadamia or walnut)
• Almond, rice or 1% milk
• Yogurt (low fat and unsweetened)
• Skinless poultry
• Herbs and spices
• Most vegetables and fruits (limit grapes, pineapples, beets, carrots and onions).
Stock up on important foods that prevent cancer such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage and collard greens), tomatoes, garlic and beans! Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and focusing on fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables is a good place to start. Protect yourself and your loved ones against disease with a healthy diet based on fresh, whole foods.
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