Here’s why keeping your weight in check is so important for heart health, and how a heart healthy diet can help you control your weight.
February is American Heart Month, which is why we’re focusing this month on heart health. In last week’s post about preparing heart-healthy meals, I mentioned that one of the benefits of a “heart-healthy” diet is that it can help you to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. That’s important, because carrying too much body fat – especially around your midsection – may increase your risk for heart disease.
Why Excess Body Fat Affects Heart Health
The larger and heavier you are, the harder your heart has to work. As you gain body fat, your body has to develop additional tiny blood vessels in order to supply oxygen and nutrients to the fat cells. But more blood vessels means an increased workload for your heart, because – in order to for the blood to reach all of your cells – your heart has to work harder, and it takes more blood pressure, too.
And, where you carry your fat also makes a difference. The fat that lies around the abdomen (often referred to as “belly fat”) is different from the fat deposits you have in other parts of your body. An excess of body fat that collects around your midsection and internal organs is associated with an increased risk for heart disease – in part, because of influences on blood pressure and levels of fats in the bloodstream.
Carrying extra weight can also affect your heart health in another important (yet less direct) way. Many people complain that excess weight makes it difficult or uncomfortable to exercise – which, of course, is so important to heart health, weight management and overall health and well-being.
Diet and Lifestyle to Control Weight and Promote Heart Health
Enjoy a healthy, well-balanced diet. It’s no secret that a healthy, well-balanced diet is important to good health. But it bears repeating that eating the right foods – and not eating too much – is key to weight management, which in turn helps promote heart health.
Lowfat proteins from a combination of plant and animal sources will help keep saturated fat intake down, while satisfying hunger at the same time. They’re also going to be the lowest calorie choices, too. Plant–proteins are naturally cholesterol-free, and seafood provides heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids known as EPA and DHA.
Colorful fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, should be your go-to carbohydrates. They’re nutrient-rich, yet relatively low in calories, which makes them the best choices for meeting your carbohydrate needs. Their fiber and water content help to fill you up, and adequate intake of certain fibers – such as the soluble fiber found in foods like apples, oats and beans – is associated with lower levels of cholesterol in the blood, as long as you stick to a low fat diet. And, when you focus on these “good” carbs, you’ll wind up eating less foods that have a lot of sugar and refined carbs, which can rack up calories quickly.
Small amounts of healthy fats, such as a sprinkle of nuts, a drizzle of olive oil or a few slices of avocado, can boost flavor and nutrition in calorie-controlled meals. Using fats thoughtfully and sparingly will help you with calorie-control, since fats are more calorie-dense than either proteins or carbohydrates.
Exercise regularly. Cardiovascular exercise – exercise that boosts your breathing and heart rate – promotes heart health in a number of ways. Like any other muscle, your heart responds positively to exercise, becoming more efficient at pumping blood and delivering oxygen to your tissues. You also burn calories while you exercise, which can help in your weight-loss efforts, as well as to maintain a healthy body weight. Regular exercise also helps keep blood pressure under control, and is a great stress-reliever. Keeping both blood pressure and stress levels in check is important to the health of your heart.
Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., F.A.N.D. – Director, Worldwide Nutrition Trainingat Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.