Eating Well for Better Health
By Brooke Sawicki, MS, RD, LDN
Nutrition and dietary intake can play a major role in managing heart failure, as well as other chronic diseases. A heart-healthy diet has a few main components. First, aim to consume a variety of whole, minimally processed foods daily from the main food groups, fruits, vegetables, lean animal or plant-based proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, to make ensure your body is receiving an abundance of nutrients that it needs.
You should also incorporate high-fiber food sources throughout the day from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds to aid with cholesterol and weight management. Focus on healthy, or unsaturated fat sources from plants, as opposed to unhealthy, or saturated fat sources from animal products to help keep your heart healthy. Finally, limit or reduce your intake of processed foods that are high in sodium and added sugar.
Let's tackle the main food groups.
Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories but are packed with a ton of nutrients, such as potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and folate. If you have kidney disease, too much potassium can be harmful. Make sure you talk with your doctor about the right amount of potassium for you. Fruits and vegetables can be consumed from sources that are either fresh, frozen without added flavors or sauces, or canned. Try selecting fruit canned in 100% fruit juice or low-sodium canned vegetables.
Grains usually get a bad rap in today's dietary culture, however, they are a great source of energy. Try focusing on whole grains, such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, or oatmeal. Whole grains are packed with fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains can help manage cardiovascular disease, regulate digestion, and aid with weight management!
Protein can come from a variety of sources in the diet, such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and seeds. Some of the nutrients that protein provides us are B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Protein also plays a vital role in many of the reactions that happen within our body, such as building healthy bones, muscle, cartilage, skin, enzymes, hormones, and vitamins. Protein aids with satiety and prevents loss of lean body mass. If you consume animal proteins, make sure you select lean cuts of meat and poultry, as they are lower in saturated fats. Try incorporating fish and plant-based protein sources, such as beans, nuts, and seeds throughout the week. A variety of protein sources is best.
Dairy comes from milk and any product made from milk that retains its calcium content, such as cheese and yogurt. Try selecting fat-free or low-fat dairy options, as they are lower in saturated fats. Dairy provides our body with calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein, which help keep our bones strong. There are also many non-dairy alternatives on the market, such as almond milk. If you prefer non-dairy alternatives, make sure they are fortified with calcium.
When you are building a plate for your meal, try making half of your plate fruits and/or vegetables, a fourth of your plate lean animal protein or plant-based protein, and a fourth of your plate whole grains.
If you have a health condition, be sure to work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to make sure you get the nutrients you need to be healthy.
Brooke Sawicki, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian with the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center. She can be reached at 410-553-8146.
Previously published in the Capital Gazette on February 27, 2021.