Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, and is responsible for 1 in every 4 deaths. There are a number of risk factors that contribute to heart disease, such as lack of exercise, smoking, obesity, and an unhealthy diet high in fat and sugar.

Although it can be difficult for some to alter their entire lifestyles if they’ve been making unhealthy choices for an extended period of time, changing the diet is a great first place to start. A healthy diet can actually contribute to weight loss and lower other factors related to heart disease such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Here are some tips on how you can change your diet for the better to improve and promote good heart health.

Lower and limit your portion sizes

Many Americans have formed an unhealthy “super-size” habit of ordering or buying large portions, going back for seconds, and eating until they feel stuffed. In most cases, restaurants serve plates that could easily satisfy two or even three adults. Start making a conscious effort to lower and limit your portion sizes and use measuring cups if needed to manage your food intake.

Increase your fruit and vegetable intake

Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and can help you feel full for longer periods of time. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that will not only boost your energy, but fight against diseases and illnesses including heart disease. Start eating more fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks and with all meals throughout the day.

Reduce your intake of unhealthy fats and cholesterol

Saturated fats and trans-fats should be severely limited, or omitted completely from your diet. The easiest way to omit these fats is to stop eating margarine and butter and replace these foods with healthier alternatives such as olive oil or canola oil. Other high-fat foods to avoid are gravies, cream sauces, bacon fat, and non-dairy creamers.

Exchange high-fat meats for lean protein foods

Many red meats such as marbled meats, hot dogs, sausages, bacon, and pork ribs can actually contribute heavily to heart disease when consumed in excession. Omit meats such as these from your diet and focus instead on increasing your intake of lean-protein items. Examples of lean-protein foods you should add to your diet are eggs, fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon, and skinless poultry such as turkey and chicken.

Reduce your sodium intake

Just like red meats, high sodium intake is another major risk factor of heart disease when it comes to your diet. Stop seasoning your food with an excessive amount of salt, or use other herbs and spices to flavor your food in place of salt. Also, many processed food items you buy may already have high sodium content – so there’s no need to flavor your meals with extra salt. Start buying more whole foods that lack salt, or buy processed foods that have low sodium content.

As you start delving more into eating a healthy diet, you’ll start to find new, creative ways to prepare meals that are not only tasty, but highly nutritious. Keep in mind that healthier foods will not only lower your risk for heart disease, but will also make you feel more vibrant, energetic, and lively on a daily basis.

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