September is Irish Heart Month, which will see a focus across the country on the importance of a healthy diet to support your heart and keep it beating strong for years to come. The key to a heart-healthy diet is knowing your limitations – rather than focusing on the idea of “bad foods” or foods to avoid, the importance is on moderation and being aware of what you’re putting into your body (because it will affect what you get back).
Certain food behaviours can increase your risk of heart disease and a sensible approach to food can be a real benefit in tackling that possibility. Here are some tips to get you started.
Limit unhealthy fats
While there are no “good” or “bad” foods, certain highly processed fats can only be consumed very rarely if you want to do your heart a favour. Saturated fats are found in commonly occurring fatty foods, like butter, cream, lard and other rich ingredients. To keep your heart in good shape, saturated fats should contribute to only 7% of your daily calorie intake.
Similarly, trans fats are highly contentious and is found in pretty much anything we would consider a guilty pleasure food – this includes anything battered or deep fried, and most confectionery. These kinds of food should be considered occasional treats only and take up no more than 1% of your daily intake.
Eat more fruit and vegetables
We’re encouraged to make fruit and vegetables a significant part of our diet from a young age and with good reason! They contain essential sources of vitamins such as Vitamin C and folic acid which are useful for fortifying your body against disease. They also encourage strong immune systems and can help fortify the structures of your heart against illness. Beyond their inherent nutritional benefits, a diet high in fruit and vegetables can also help combat hunger and the urge to snack which contributes to unhealthy eating and detrimental consequences for the health of your heart.
Control your portion sizes
The amount of your food can be as important as what it is your eating. For some of us who are used to taking big helpings or second servings of food, it could be the deciding factor between a strong, robust body and one that is suffering from neglect. The most effective way to tackle your portion sizes is to learn what a proper portion is. You may be surprised to learn how your dinner plate changes when correct portions are taken into account. For example, the size of a serving of meat on your plate should be no more than the thickness of a deck of cards, while the correct serving of a portion of pasta is about the size of a hockey puck. By being diligent with the amount you eat and replacing any empty space with low calorie, high value vegetables you’ll fortify your heart against any preventable problems.
Remember, there’s no magic trick to a heart healthy diet – it’s about simple, sensible approaches to food and putting what your heart needs first!