6 Steps for a Healthy Heart

By Humber River Hospital

February 14th is Valentine’s Day. It is a day for flowers and chocolates. This Valentine’s Day, the cardiologists and registered dietitians at Humber River Hospital want you to put your heart first; and they have six tips for keeping your heart healthy for many years to come.

“One of the most important things you can do to improve your health and protect against heart disease is eat healthier,” says Lori Wilkinson, a registered dietitian at the hospital. This may sound easy, but what exactly does that mean?

Here, according to Lori, are six steps you can take towards a heart healthy diet, and keeping your heart strong for many more Valentine’s Days to come:

  1. Follow Canada’s Food Guide. A new version was released this year and focuses on the plate method: ½ of your plate should be filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables; ¼ with protein food sources; and ¼ with whole grain foods/starches. Also, make water your drink of choice.
  2. Choose heart healthy fats such as unsaturated fats- olive oil, avocadoes, nuts, seeds and salmon. Limit saturated fats, trans fats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats such as fried foods, full-fat dairy products and butter.
  3. Limit sugary foods and drinks that offer little or no nutrition such as syrup, juice, pop, jams, pastries and candies. Your taste buds love them, your heart does not.
  4. Increase your fiber intake by choosing whole grain breads and cereals, brown pasta, brown rice, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables. The average adult should aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily. Slowly increase the amount of fiber in your diet and drink plenty of fluids to avoid short-term bloating, gas, and other discomforts.
  5. Prepare foods using healthy cooking methods such as baking, broiling, roasting, steaming, poaching, and barbecuing. Choose frying/deep frying less often. Another tip: when cooking with cream sauces, use low-fat milk and margarine.
  6. And last but not least- reduce your sodium intake. Too much salt can lead to fluid retention in some people, which makes the heart work harder and can lead to high blood pressure. Read food labels and choose products with less than 200mg of sodium per serving. Aim for a total of less than 1 teaspoon (2400mg) per day. And don’t forget to limit the amount of salt added at the table.

Keep in mind that healthy eating is not about being perfect. There is room in a heart healthy diet for treats such as chocolates on Valentine’s Day. The key is consuming these items in moderation and being mindful that certain foods are “treats”.

“I see a lot of cardiac disease in my day to day life,” says Dr. Paul Szmitko, a cardiologist at Humber. “Prevention is the key, and those six steps are a great start.”