Eat Lots of Fruits, Vegetables and Whole Grains
While eating meat might not be the worst thing you can do for your cardiovascular system, nutritionists and dieticians recommend that you consider meat a “treat”. Doctors and nutritionists have investigated how to maintain a healthy heart. They have discovered that people who eat mostly fruits, vegetables and whole grains have a much healthier cardiovascular system than those who live off of meat and potatoes.
Former President Bill Clinton was a big fan of McDonald’s until he started suffering from chest pains and had to undergo surgery to open up his coronary arteries. Now, he swears by his vegan diet, although he does admit to eating fish occasionally and having a bite of turkey on Thanksgiving.
The diet he follows was recommended by his cardiologist to reduce his risk of further arterial blockages, cardiovascular disease and heart attack. Clinton was an avid jogger for a good part of his life. So, exercise is not everything. Diet plays a major role.
Watch Out for Salt
Limiting salt is an important part of how to maintain a healthy heart. While sodium is an essential dietary element, most Americans get ten times as much salt as they need every day. When you eat salty foods, excessive sodium in the bloodstream pulls fluids into the blood vessels causing them to stretch and raising the blood pressure.
Eventually, the vessels return to normal size, but if the process goes on and on over time, the vessels can become weak. Small divots can form on the interior walls of the vessels and make a perfect spot for fats and cholesterol in the bloodstream to become stuck. The fats become oxidized and hardened. This is what happens in atherosclerosis, the most common form of heart disease.
Limit Saturated & Trans Fats-Substitute Healthy Fats
For many years, it was thought that limiting your cholesterol was an important part of how to maintain a healthy heart. Now, it seems that saturated fats and trans-fats are the real culprits. If you cut out cholesterol completely, your body will just produce more of it. Cholesterol is necessary for the production of hormones and other compounds within the body.
Trans-fats are artificial ingredients. They appear on ingredients labels as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils”. It is very important to look for those four words, because manufacturers are allowed to use the claim “No Trans-fat” when there is less than a half-gram of partially hydrogenated oils per serving. Since serving sizes are often small, this can add up.
It seems that our bodies do not know how to process trans-fats efficiently, which is why avoiding them is a big part of how to maintain a healthy heart. When consumed, trans-fats cause blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels to rise significantly. The more fats there are in the bloodstream, the more likely plaques are to form and that is the beginning of atherosclerosis.
Saturated fats have a similar effect on blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels. But you need some fats in order to be healthy and to absorb fat soluble nutrients from other foods. So, choose olive oil and other healthy fats instead.
You can tell saturated fats from healthy oils by how solid they are at room temperature. For example, butter is highly saturated, as are margarines made from vegetable oil. Olive oil on the other hand is highly unsaturated.