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Foods for a Healthier Heart

Heart disease is the number-one killer for fire fighters and the second leading cause of death in America. A healthy lifestyle and heart health go hand-in-hand. You can lower your risk of heart disease by eating right and maintaining a healthy weight.

Foods to Fill Your Plate

What you eat is very important for heart health. A good diet really makes a difference.

Pile your plate with fruits and vegetables. They have more vitamins, minerals and health-enhancing compounds like antioxidants than any other food group.

Whole grains are another winner. They are low in calories and fat and a great source of complex carbohydrates, the primary fuel for our bodies. Research shows eating three servings of this powerful food each day can lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Some examples of whole grains are whole wheat, barley, brown rice, oats and corn (including popcorn).

Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are all rich in fiber. Studies have shown that fiber lowers cholesterol. It also makes you feel full, which can help in controlling your weight. You should aim to eat 25 to 38 grams of fiber each day, depending on your age and your sex.

Experts recommend eating at least two servings of baked or grilled fish each week because it's high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Good, fresh fish to consider are salmon, mackerel, flounder, tuna and halibut.

Foods to Watch

Keep tabs on your fat intake. Saturated fat is the main food culprit for high cholesterol. The higher your cholesterol, the greater your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Saturated fats are mostly found in marbled meats like steak, poultry with skin and dairy products like butter, cheese and ice cream.

At the same time, studies show that unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats, defend against heart disease, winning them the nickname "good" fats. Unsaturated fats are found in nuts, olives, avocados and canola and olive oils. A low-fat diet rich in good fats may increase the amount of good cholesterol in your blood while keeping your total cholesterol low.

Staying Trim

Losing excess weight is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Extra weight puts more strain on your heart. It can raise your blood pressure and contribute to high cholesterol, two conditions that can predispose you to heart disease.

A lot of fire fighters say they put on more weight as they put in more time on the job.

Changing your eating habits can help you win the battle of the bulge. For example, the empty calories in certain beverages and snack foods can really add up. Satisfy your snack attacks with low-calorie, nutritious fruit instead of chips and other nibbles and drink iced tea or water in place of soda.