Bite by bite, sip by sip, nearly everything you put in your mouth affects your heart. Food high in saturated and trans fats can lead to clogged arteries and inflammation -- the key ingredients for a heart attack. You know you should reduce fat, mind your calories, and eat well -- but it can be daunting. Here are some easy ways to incorporate heart-smart choices into your meals.
Protect yourself against heart disease by watching what you eat.
Go Mediterranean. "Switching from a diet high in saturated fat to a Mediterranean-style diet raises good cholesterol and lowers overall cholesterol in a couple of weeks. It's a fairly rapid thing," says Klodas. The diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and red wine are consumed, and little red meat.
Get a grip on portions. Taking control of the amount of food you eat is the most important nutrition step you can take to prevent heart disease, say Klodas. Idaho dietitians created a system to control cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. Start with a 9-inch plate. Fill half the plate with nonstarchy vegetables (1 cup), one quarter of the plate with a starchy food (half cup), and the last quarter with lean protein (2 to 3 ounces). Add 8 ounces of nonfat or lowfat milk or yogurt and half cup of fruit.
Shelve trans fats. These dangerous fats raise levels of bad cholesterol, which clogs arteries, while decreasing good cholesterol, which keeps plaque from forming. Trans fats result when liquid vegetable oils are changed into a solid fat. Avoid products containing trans fats -- also called partially hydrogenated oils.
Watch for hidden salt. If Americans cut 1,000 milligrams of salt from their diets daily, there would be 200,000 fewer deaths over a 10-year period. Most of your sodium intake --75 percent --comes from processed foods. Look for low sodium products with 140 milligrams or less sodium per serving.
Eat in. When you cook your meals at home, you have more control over the amount of saturated fat, salt, and calories you are serving your family.
Swap out butter. A tablespoon of butter has about 9 grams of saturated fat. Switching to a spread containing plant sterols -- such as Take Control or Benecol -- limits the amount of cholesterol absorbed in your body and reduces heart disease risk.
Serve less saturated fat. Saturated fat, like trans fat, is solid at room temperature. However, it comes from animal sources (meat and dairy products). Shop for foods that contain less than 3 grams of saturated fat per serving.