By Beth Schwenk

Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator

Providence Seaside Hospital

"Did you know that you can greatly cut your risk of heart disease just by improving your diet?" asks Beth Schwenk, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Providence Seaside Hospital. "It turns out that the way to your heart is really through your stomach."

"What you eat is so important to good cardiovascular health that changing your diet can cut your risk for heart disease in half," Schwenk continues. "Rethinking your overall eating habits can help you to manage your blood pressure, reduce your weight and control your blood cholesterol."

To improve your health with your diet, Schwenk offers the following steps:

Choose a 'high fiber/right fat" diet. Soluble fiber, the type of fiber found in beans, oatmeal and powder fiber supplements, is strongly associated with reduced risk of heart disease. Aim for 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Because they are rich in healthy fats, olive and canola oils are the best choices for cooking and eating. Limit saturated fats (butter, meat fats, lard, and coconut and palm oils) and trans fats. And remember that too much fat - even a right kind of fat - is not part of a healthy diet. Two tablespoons or less of oil/fat daily is all that is needed.

Go for variety. A heart-healthy diet includes a wide variety of foods, including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains. Be adventuresome - try something you have never had before, such as lentils or barley. They're easy to prepare and add a delicious new dimension to your diet.

Decrease processed food/convenience food consumption. Processing may remove up to 90 percent of heart-healthy vitamins from foods. What's more, processed foods can be quite high in saturated fats, trans fats, sugars, and sodium. Your diet should emphasize foods that are recognizable in their original form. Think twice and read the label before getting any processed or manufactured foods that comes in a box, can, bag, or carton. Stick with fresh produce grown as close to your home as possible. Select 100 percent whole grain breads, pasta and rice.

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