(Family Features) - Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. The good news is that there is much you can do to fight, as well as slow the progression of heart disease by simply following some heart-healthy lifestyle and diet habits. Here are six simple ways to protect your heart, from Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.
1. Waist Not, Want Not
Excess weight increases the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, factors that escalate the chances of developing heart disease. One way to control calories, which will help manage weight is to choose "low energy-dense" foods. These are foods that supply few calories, but still fill you up and leave you feeling satisfied. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, cooked whole grains, and broth-based soups are typically high in water, fiber and nutrients, but moderate in calories, so you feel fuller after eating them and are likely to consume fewer calories. So, snack on watermelon, have a fiber-rich bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, a bowl of vegetable soup for lunch, and add an extra serving of steamed vegetables to dinner.
2. Don't be a Salty Dog
Diets high in sodium diets are linked to an increased risk for high blood pressure, a major risk factor in heart disease. Limit daily sodium intake to no more than 2300 milligrams, or about one teaspoon of salt. Use salt substitutes when cooking. Look for lower-sodium varieties of your favorite foods, including foods with the American Heart Association's heart check mark on the label.
3. Boost Nutrients
A varied diet filled with minimally-processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and fish, is rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and omega-3s, which help keep the heart in tip top shape. Salmon with a side spinach salad is a delicious example of a heart-healthy meal loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. Add some sliced watermelon, which contains citrulline, an amino acid that helps maintain the arteries, blood flow, and heart health.
4. Think Produce
A diet rich in vegetables and fruits is key for a healthy heart. Find simple and tasty ways to include at least two servings in each meal and at least one serving at snack time. Aim for at least the MyPyramid daily recommendations of two and a half cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit. For example, toss dried fruit onto a tossed salad or add grated carrots and broccoli to pasta sauce. You even can drink your produce. Blend watermelon with lemon yogurt and a touch of ginger for a refreshing mid-morning snack. Besides, produce such as watermelon is cholesterol-free, fat-free, and very low in sodium.
5. Cut Back on Saturated and Trans Fats
Choose extra-lean meats and poultry without skin, preferably breast meat. Then prepare those meats with little or no saturated or trans fats. Choose nonfat or one percent low-fat milk products. When choosing processed foods, make sure they are trans fat free. Also keep an eye on portions; a serving of meat is three to four ounces, about the size of a deck of cards.
6. Move More
Balance a healthy diet with daily physical activity. Take the stairs instead of the elevator; wear a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps a day; opt for a bike ride instead of an afternoon on the couch. Regular physical activity can help reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, drop pounds, and is a great stress reliever. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.