Heart Month is an opportunity to refocus your attention toward your cardiovascular health, learn about the dangers of poor cardiovascular health, and examine what the latest science says. Maybe you’re doing just fine, but you’ve strayed from your cardiovascular goals.
In the US, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds—that’s roughly 805,000 people per year. Heart disease accounts for roughly 1 in 5 deaths annually, with about 697,000 Americans dying from heart disease in 2020.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one way to take care of your heart health is by making heart-healthy eating changes.
To help you and your people get started, we’re sharing nutrition insights from LifeSpeak expert and dietician Dr. Alison Atrey. First, we’ll break down common health myths. Then we’ll provide simple strategies anyone can use to implement the right eating habits to support a long and healthy life.
Heart Health Myths: Debunked
Myth 1: Superfoods exist.
Actually, Dr. Atrey says, no single food will reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Rather, diet diversity is important. Each person’s body reacts to food differently, so while many so-called superfoods like nuts or blueberries are healthy, they are not the one thing that will reduce everyone’s risk of disease.
Myth 2: You need supplements.
Contrary to popular opinion, Dr. Atrey says people who eat a healthy, balanced diet shouldn’t need to take any supplements. She cautions those who decide to take supplements to be careful; the supplement industry isn’t regulated, so there’s no way to know what’s really in a supplement.
Myth 3: Salt is healthy now.
Well, this one’s complicated. A recent study found that consuming too little or too much salt could contribute to heart disease.
Rather than increasing or decreasing salt intake, Dr. Atrey recommends avoiding processed meats and trying to cook more food from scratch. The average person still consumes too much salt.
Armed with the truth behind these three common nutrition myths, next, we’ll explore strategies for better heart health centered on the three macronutrients, or the three main nutritional categories of food: carbs, protein, and fat.
Expert Nutrition Strategies
Macronutrient 1: Use carbs to promote gut diversity.
Studies show that gut diversity can have a big impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease.
So how do we improve gut diversity? The answer is simple: eat many different plant foods each week—preferably 30 different plant foods.
“When I say that to them, most people go, ‘I can’t do that! That’s too scary. It’s too many,’” Dr. Atrey says. “But actually, it’s not as hard as you think. For example, on Sunday as a family, we made a frittata. I had zucchini, red peppers, green peppers, spinach, onion, garlic, and tomatoes in that frittata. That’s seven in one meal.”
Add a salad and fruit for dessert, and you can easily get 12 different kinds of plants in just one meal, she says.
Dr. Atrey stresses that this is about diversity, not quantity. We don’t need to stuff ourselves with any one kind of fruit or vegetable. We also don’t need to stress about eating exactly 30 kinds of plants each week. The key is simply variety. The more variety, the better.
Macronutrient 2: Approach fats holistically.
A lot of people want to replace fats with other types of food, but if those replacement foods are processed and high in sugar, they won’t improve health.
Dr. Atrey says that we typically want our fats from plants and fish. Fat from butter or dairy is complicated. A person with a low-fat diet might have room for this type of fat, whereas a person with a high-fat diet won’t.
Taking a holistic and individual approach to fat will help people meet their dietary requirements.
Macronutrient 3: Don’t overdo protein.
The fitness and health food industries love to promote protein powders and other supplements, which can be expensive. The good news is that the average person doesn’t need them.
According to Dr. Atrey, most people should consume 300 to 500 grams of protein per week. She recommends a variety of plant and animal sources, as well as fermented dairy products like yogurts or cheese. Fish is an especially good source of protein. So are nuts—just make sure they aren’t covered in salt or sugar.
When it comes to your cardiovascular health, you’re in control. Take time this month to learn about your risk for heart disease and the steps you need to take to prioritize heart health at any age.
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