Eating for heart health is not too difficult when you’re in control of the kitchen. Dining out at a restaurant or special event can present additional challenges. Knowledge is power, as they say, so if you care about your own heart health, or a loved one’s, there is much to learn about which foods can help prevent heart disease, and which foods might impact cardiovascular health in a negative way.
Having that knowledge can also fuel healthier habits – and healthier choices when you find yourself with a menu in your hand. The American Heart Association (AHA) and the Mayo Clinic both provide up-to-date information about diet and heart health on their websites – this is a great place to start educating yourself.
Heart Health Awareness Dining
February is Heart Health Awareness Month in North America, and a number of organizations, including the AHA, are offering tips to make eating out a little less perilous for the heart. Here are a few of the suggestions:
Knowing what to order when you’re confronted with a restaurant menu is half the battle when you’re trying to make heart-healthy choices. Many eating establishments are helping by listing the ingredients in their dishes or designating certain dishes as being healthier with a symbol or their own section on the menu. If you’re not sure, ask your server.
Choosing Low-Fat Dishes
You can’t go far wrong by keeping it simple – choose uncomplicated lower-fat dishes without rich sauces. Fish is generally a better option for heart health, especially if it contains omega 3 fatty acids which reduce blood triglycerides (salmon, mackerel, and herring).
Skip the oil and fat-laden condiments, dressings and extra sauces, or ask for them on the side so you can control the amount. Some of the fats that recommended to limit are butter, lard, bacon fat, gravy, cream sauce, coconut, palm, cottonseed and palm-kernel oils. Safer fats include olive and avocado oil and other vegetable and nut-based oils. If you don’t know what is in your selected dish or dressing, ask – servers often love to talk about how the dishes are prepared.
Portion sizes can be generous at many restaurants. Don’t be afraid to leave food on your plate and push back from the table before you feel really full. Better yet, share dishes – most restaurants won’t mind. For some types of cuisine, sharing many dishes family style is de rigueur.
Watch What You Drink
Drink water with your meal. Not only does it have zero calories, it aids digestion, keeps your body hydrated and can prevent you from overeating. If you want to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Drinking alcohol in excess can raise blood pressure – one of the most important risk factors for having a heart attack or a stroke. On the other hand, some alcoholic drinks, red wine, for example, have long been thought to be heart healthy when consumed in moderation. The antioxidants present in red wine may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and protecting against artery damage.
Reduce Sodium Intake
Look for low sodium options on the menu, ask for reduced salt preparation of your meal, and do not add extra table salt. According to the Harvard Health Blog, there are a wealth of rigorous scientific studies that supports a link between excess sodium intake and high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. Although our society has grown used to the taste of salty foods, flavoring food with healthier spices has become more prevalent. This is especially true in restaurants that rely on fresh ingredients. Your chances of having a sodium safe meal are better than cooking at home with products that have been processed or frozen.
There’s so much you can do to make heart-healthy choices when dining out without feeling deprived or frustrated. Dining out should be special and no one is suggesting you completely avoid the great food and company of that experience. Educate yourself, choose wisely and you can enjoy any meal without worry. Your heart will thank you.