Our dietary changes are often motivated by goals like losing weight, building muscle, or feeling more energetic throughout the day, but there’s another noteworthy goal worth taking seriously: heart health.
Nearly half of all American adults suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association’s 2019 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics update. And if you think it’s an older person’s issue, know this: “Coronary artery disease is caused by plaque buildup in the arteries of the heart in a process called atherosclerosis, which can start in one’s teens and 20s,” says Jennifer Wong, M.D., medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at Orange Coast Medical Center’s MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute.
Many of your risk factors for developing heart issues are very much in your control. In fact, what you eat plays a notable role. “Diets high in saturated and trans fat have been linked to heart disease and related conditions like atherosclerosis,” says Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. “Also, a diet high in sodium may elevate the blood pressure.”
To support healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, experts recommend making the following heart-healthy nutrition swaps.
1. Replace mayo with avocado on sandwiches
You probably know that mayonnaise is high in calories, but you may not realize that its high saturated fat content might increase your body’s LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk for heart disease over time, notes Adams.
He recommends replacing the mayo on sandwiches with avocado to add healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber. “This is an easy and tasty swap, and you can even add some salsa to the avocado to liven up any dull sandwich and add some life to your lunch,” he says.
2. Cook with healthy oils instead of butter
If you’re used to cooking with butter, one of the easiest heart-healthy nutrition swaps you can make is switching to a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, such as avocado oil or olive oil. “The use of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats may help reduce your total blood cholesterol,” she reaffirms.
When it comes to the most optimal monounsaturated fat, olive oil may be your best bet. One study published in Lipids Health Disease suggests it’s the only source of monounsaturated fat linked to decreased risk of both heart disease and stroke.
3. Choose salmon over steak
Another swap to make because of that whole saturated fat-cholesterol thing? Replacing fatty meats, such as marbled steak, with fatty fish. While the World Cancer Research Fund says that eating red meat is okay in moderation (12 to 18 ounces per week), they recommend choosing unsaturated fat-containing fish, such as salmon, whenever possible.
“Fish like salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats that can help decrease the risk of heart disease,” adds Wong.
4. Opt for green tea Over Herbal tea
One study published in JAMA found that participants who drank more than five cups of green tea a day were 26 percent less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke. And another study published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews suggests that drinking green tea may significantly help reduce your blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. When heart-healthy nutrition swaps are this simple, why not make them?
5. Trade ground beef for lentils
Amy Gorin, R.D.N., a plant-based dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats in Stamford, Connecticut, recommends swapping out ground beef for lentils in all sorts of recipes. “You may barely notice the difference,” she says. “What’s more: A study published in Nutrients found that following a vegetarian diet can help lower your risk of coronary heart disease.”
Read More: 7 Tips For Doing A Plant-Based Diet Right
To do this, simply sauté dry lentils with onion and garlic, stir in some vegetable broth, and simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes. Once the lentils are tender, lightly mash them to your desired texture.
6. Reach for Whole Grains Rather Than refined grains
You’ve probably heard about the importance of whole grains in your diet. Not only are they high in fiber and nutrients, but they’re also a decent source of protein and antioxidants, says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council.
Axe recommends choosing whole grains, like oats, quinoa, and brown rice, over refined grains like white pasta, rice, and bread. “Research published in the British Medical Journal suggests that consistent whole-grain intake is associated with improved cardiovascular disease outcomes—and that they may even help decrease LDL cholesterol levels,” he says.
7. Switch Out sweetened drinks for sparkling waters
While you might not link overdoing it on sugar with heart issues, the two are indeed connected. In fact, a sugar-laden diet has a direct impact on your heart health. One study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, for example, links added sugar intake to increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
One easy way to cut down your sugar intake is by swapping juice and other sugary beverages like soda for water, seltzers, and teas. “These will not impact your blood sugar levels and won’t cause weight gain,” he says. “You can also add lemon, lime, mint, and cucumber to waters to promote detoxification and add flavor.”