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Friday’s Flavor: Eating healthy is easier than you think

Originally published November 12, 2010

What comes to mind when you think of the typical college diet? I bet your description includes foods like pizza, chicken nuggets, and pop. Many college students overlook the components of their diet, but this can be dangerous because your eating habits today can affect your health later in life.

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans each year. Preventing heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes are all benefits of incorporating heart healthy foods into your diet. Here are several simple suggestions on how to incorporate heart healthy foods into the diet.

1. Consume foods high in fiber.

Fiber plays a role in lowering cholesterol. High fiber foods include oatmeal, fruits, vegetables and beans.

2. Choose whole grains.
Whole grains are important because they contain a high amount of fiber and nutrients. Also, whole grains keep you full longer, thus reducing the urge to snack. The USDA recommends that half of your grain intake come from whole grains.

Substitute refined grains currently in your diet for 100 percent whole grains. Refined grains are those that have been modified and enriched such as white bread or white rice.

Whole grain food sources include whole wheat bread, brown rice, flaxseed, whole-wheat pasta and whole-wheat flour.

3. Choose fruits & vegetables.
I know, everyone always says to eat more fruits and vegetables, but it’s for a good reason. Fruits and vegetables are beneficial for your body because they are low in calories, high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and promote a healthy weight.

Try to choose fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables. Avoid fruits and vegetables that are fried, breaded, or are served in a sauce which can add unnecessary calories.

4. Limit unhealthy fats.
How do you know which fats are healthier for you? Unsaturated fats are the healthier fats that can reduce the risk of heart disease. These consist of mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats. Mono-unsaturated food sources include olive oil, canola oil, avocados and nuts. Poly-unsaturated food sources include vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of poly-unsaturated fat that are good for the heart and can decrease blood clotting and inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acid food sources include walnuts, soy and fatty fish such as salmon or tuna.

Less healthy fats consist of saturated and trans fats because these fats have been shown to have negative effects on the heart.

Saturated fats are typically found in animal sources such as red meats, bacon, dairy products and butter. Trans fats form when liquid fats become solid fats in a process called hydrogenation.

Foods that commonly contain high amounts of trans fats include commercially baked foods such as chips, cookies or donuts, fried foods and some margarines.

Check the ingredient list on a nutrition label for hydrogenated ingredients. If a food contains hydrogenated fats, there may be hidden trans fats in the item.

5. Decrease sodium intake.
Excessive sodium intake may be a contributor to high blood pressure in some people. Limiting your salt intake means limiting the amount of processed food you consume.

Processed foods are those that have been chemically altered by the addition of flavors, preservatives, or stabilizers.

More than 75 percent of the sodium in the diet comes from processed foods. Culprits include frozen foods, soups, canned foods and processed meats. There are many ways to reduce sodium in your diet.

An easy way is to avoid salting food at the table. Look for reduced sodium options in the grocery store and use fresh foods to make meals. Try no-salt seasonings such as garlic, onions and herbs to add flavor to your food.

There are many ways to incorporate heart healthy foods into the diet. Start out small by adding or substituting one or two food items.

Once these items become part of your daily routine, incorporate one or two more. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to a healthier heart.

Revised for accuracy by Amanda Newell, RD, Bradley Dietetic Internship Director and Assistant Professor in Family and Consumer Sciences.

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