For many families, making small changes in menu choices can make a huge difference in a family's long-term heart health.
For example, one of the best ways to reduce the risk for developing cardiovascular disease and other heart conditions is to eat less junk food and add more nutritious foods to their daily diet. In today's time-starved world, the importance of eating healthy meals is often overlooked.
To help make healthy eating easier, here are some simple tips to start your "makeover":
· Aim to eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 21/2 cups of vegetables every day. Produce is packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other essential nutrients, and it's virtually fat- and cholesterol-free.
· Pay attention to portion sizes and preparation methods. Try grilling, baking, poaching and sautéing, for example, instead of deep-frying.
· Try to eat fish at least twice a week. Research shows that eating salmon, trout and herring — all of which contain omega-3 fatty acids — may help lower your family's risk for coronary artery disease.
· When preparing lunches, make sandwiches with whole-grain breads. Chicken and turkey are good, lower-fat choices, while nonfat mayonnaise or better yet, mustard, makes a good spread. Be sure to pack some baby carrots or grape tomatoes, as well as a piece of fruit. Healthy beverage alternatives include water, seltzer and nonfat milk.
· Cut back on high-fat foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fat and saturated fat. Use liquid vegetable oils and soft margarines in place of hard margarine or shortening. Limit cakes, cookies, pastries, muffins, pies, oversized bagels and doughnuts.
· Prepare foods with little or no added salt. Aim to eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
· Eat a filling meal before shopping for groceries. Make a list first — and then stick to it.
· Shop for foods that are close to their natural state, like fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.
· If you must order fast-food meals, study the nutritional guides available at most of these restaurants and choose the best foods. Heart-healthy options include salads with nonfat or low-fat dressings, and sandwiches with lots of fresh vegetables.
· Make a real attempt to avoid all sweetened drinks, including sodas, teas, punches, sports beverages and even juices. Especially avoid anything sweetened with fructose or high-fructose corn syrup, as there is research suggesting that these ingredients actually increase appetite for fatty foods and total calories.