Eating well is key to a healthy heart

When the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services updated its Dietary Guidelines for Americans in January, it triggered criticism that the government didn't go far enough to reduce consumption of some items, such as red meat.

But the guidelines, which are updated every five years, did focus on ways Americans can improve their diets to combat some chronic health conditions, including heart disease. It's timely to focus on this during February, American Heart Month.

Cardiovascular disease affected 84 million Americans aged 20 and older – about 35 percent of the population. Risk factors include hypertension, obesity, smoking and high blood cholesterol. An unbalanced diet contributes to these factors.

Following are some of the new recommendations from the federal agency.

A healthy diet includes:

  • Vegetables of all kinds and colors. Examples include green beans, garbanzo beans, spinach, tomatoes, corn, mushrooms, onions and lettuce.
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits such as oranges, apples, bananas, grapes, melons and berries
  • Grains, especially whole grains in such foods as bread and rice
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese or fortified soy beverages
  • Oils, especially plant-based oils, which provide vitamin E and needed fatty acids
  • Protein foods, including lean meats, soy products, nuts and seeds

A healthy diet limits:

  • Saturated fats and trans fats, the main sources of which include mixed dishes with cheese or meat or both, such as tacos, burgers, pizza and pasta
  • Added sugars, such as corn syrup, brown sugar, molasses and others
  • Sodium, usually consumed as salt

The new dietary guidelines recommend that no more than 10 percent of your calories each day come from added sugars and saturated fats. And sodium intake shouldn't be more than 2,300 milligrams a day. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation.

"By focusing on small shifts in what we eat and drink, eating healthy becomes more manageable," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell. The Dietary Guidelines, she said, help people "make decisions that may help keep their weight under control, and prevent chronic conditions, like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease."

Providence Health & Services dietitian Kimra Hawk offered some familiar advice about heeding dietary guidelines.

"That old adage of shopping the perimeter of the grocery store is always a good thing," she said. "The perimeter is where you find those fruits and vegetables, meats and the dairy case. Yes, the bakery is also on the perimeter as well, so make smart choices there, such as whole-wheat bread. But it's in the interior of the grocery store where we're going to find the more-processed foods that contain more sodium and saturated fats."

Providence provides a range of nutrition services at multiple locations in Oregon. Get more information ›

Read the U.S. government's new dietary guidelines ›