Heart health is something everyone should be thinking about, but it’s especially important for seniors. As people get older, they become more susceptible to health issues, and heart disease is one of the most common. In fact, heart disease is responsible for one in every four deaths in the U.S., and many of those deaths are preventable. Heart disease is strongly correlated with lifestyle factors, but that’s the good news. Seniors who take charge of their health can dramatically cut their risk of developing heart problems and other lifestyle-related diseases.
One of the biggest factors that impacts a person’s heart health is the diet they eat. For years, the “standard American diet” has consisted of lots of starchy, sugary foods and too many unhealthy fats. This kind of diet has played a big role in the country’s high (and increasing) rates of heart disease. The upside is that by switching away from the standard American diet and adopting a diet full of whole, plant-based foods instead, people of any age – from teens to seniors – can improve their heart health. And since a heart-healthy diet can be fresh and delicious, it’s an all-around win.
Interested in learning how to improve heart health through simple dietary changes? Whether you’re a senior or not, these simple guidelines will help you create a heart-healthy diet plan easily.
9 Heart-Healthy Food Guidelines for Seniors
1. Fill your plate with a rainbow of veggies and fruits
The number-one thing you can do to improve your heart health is simple: just eat more fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce is almost always a healthy choice. It’s packed with essential nutrition, low in calories, and incredibly versatile. Regardless of what kinds of food you like to eat right now, it’s probably not too hard to find a way to improve your current diet just by adding more fruits and
The best way to ensure you’re getting plenty of nutrition from your fruits and veggies is to choose a wide variety of colors. Brightly-colored vegetables, in particular, are full of vitamins and minerals. Dark, leafy greens, red cabbage, eggplant, and colorful bell peppers are just a few of the best
choices out there.
Even seniors who don’t like vegetables much can get their nutritional benefits by “hiding” veggies in other foods. Carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, and leafy greens are all easy to puree or shred and add to soups, sauces, and casseroles. They won’t change the taste or texture of the food much, but
they’ll still provide lots of health benefits.
2. Enjoy whole grains instead of refined grains
Bread, pasta, rice, oatmeal… who doesn’t like grains? Grains are a staple of most people’s diet. But some grains are much better for your heart than others. Whole grains – that is, grains that are unprocessed or minimally processed – contain lots of dietary fiber, which is good for your heart (and lots of other aspects of your health, too). Refined grains, on the other hand, have been stripped of most of their fiber. Your body processes these refined grains like sugar, which is
something you’re better off avoiding.
For people who currently eat a lot of refined grains, a few simple swaps will get you on the road to better heart health. You might even find you prefer the fuller taste and texture of whole grains. Here are a few easy ways to eat more whole grains:
- Make sandwiches with whole-grain bread instead of white bread.
- Cook brown rice instead of white rice.
- Have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.
- Snack on air-popped popcorn.
- Look for whole-wheat pasta at the store.
3. Eat the right kinds of fat
Contrary to popular belief, fat isn’t bad for heart health. However, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right kind of fat. In general, animal-based fats – like fatty red meat and full-fat dairy products – aren’t the best choices, although it’s okay to eat small amounts of these foods occasionally. Artificial trans fats are another type of fat to avoid.
So which fats are healthy? Monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids are the ones with major heart benefits. Olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish are all good sources of these heart-healthy fats. Try snacking on a handful of almonds, making salmon for dinner once a week, and drizzling olive oil on your salad to increase the heart-healthy fats in your diet.
4. Look for lean sources of protein
Protein is crucial for good heart health, and many seniors don’t get enough of it. The best sources of protein are lean – in other words, fatty cuts of meat aren’t the best way to get your protein for the day. Beans are a tasty and inexpensive source of protein, and they’re great for vegetarians as well as omnivores. Other good sources of lean protein include seafood, chicken breast, tofu, and
5. Avoid eating refined sugar
Refined sugar is bad news all around. A high-sugar diet causes inflammation throughout the body, which can in turn cause heart disease. Unfortunately, sugar hides in all kinds of surprising places, from bread to barbecue sauce. The best way to avoid consuming excess sugar is to stay away from processed, packaged foods and eat a diet of whole, natural foods instead.
What about seniors who have a sweet tooth? There are some ways to enjoy sweet treats without consuming too much sugar. Simply eating sugar in moderation – say, one dessert a week – will help reduce sugar’s harmful effects on the cardiovascular system. Natural sugar alternatives like stevia and monk fruit can also be used to sweeten desserts without causing inflammation.
6. Get plenty of vitamin D every day
Many seniors become deficient in vitamin D as they get older. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to heart disease and strokes, so it’s very important for seniors to make sure they’re getting enough of this nutrient. Here are some of the top dietary sources of vitamin D:
- Fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, or tuna
- Egg yolks
- Fortified orange juice
7. Add flavor with herbs.
Salt is an easy way to add flavor to foods. Many ready-made meals and snack foods also contain high levels of sodium because it’s a good preservative. Unfortunately, too much salt can also cause high blood pressure, especially for people who are already experiencing problems with their heart health. It’s best for seniors to go easy on the salt and brighten up their meals with a variety of herbs and spices instead. There are tons of great options out there to choose from, including pre-made seasoning blends that take the guesswork out of jazzing up a meal.
8. Reach for treats that contain lots of antioxidants.
Eating a heart-healthy diet doesn’t have to mean never having treats. In fact, the right snacks and desserts will boost heart health, not damage it. The key thing to keep in mind? Go for indulgences that are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that prevent oxidative damage and inflammation in the body. This improves almost every aspect of health, including heart health. Great sources of antioxidants include dark chocolate (the darker the better), berries like raspberries and blueberries, green tea, and coffee.
9. Watch what you drink.
What you drink impacts your health just as much as what you eat. For seniors and everybody else, soda is one of the least healthy drinks out there – it’s full of sugar and calories, and it doesn’t provide any nutrition. Alcohol is also bad for heart health; even red wine might not be as healthy as previously believed. Healthy drink choices include water, hot tea, and coffee.
Heart health is incredibly important, especially for seniors. If you want to live a long, healthy life, or if you want to help a senior you care about stay in good health for as long as possible, start thinking about the link between diet and heart health today.
The main principles to keep in mind? A heart-healthy diet is full of unprocessed foods with names you can pronounce. Vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, and good fats should make up the core of a heart-healthy diet. If adopting a heart-healthy diet all at once is overwhelming, try making small changes first. For instance, start snacking on nuts and fruit instead of potato chips, and swap out soda for herbal tea. Over time, these small and sustainable changes will lead to
better heart health and increased well-being.