Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, so it’s important to know how to maintain and improve our heart health. Living heart-healthy can look different for everyone, but it ultimately comes down to making lifestyle decisions that positively impact your heart and your health overall.
What We Put In Our Bodies Matters
A well-balanced diet is a vital part of maintaining a healthy heart, and a balanced diet includes dairy. An extensive body of research indicates that consuming dairy foods is associated with multiple health benefits and that consuming dairy is not linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular or coronary artery disease.
Dairy is packed with nutrients, 13 essential nutrients to be exact, some of which your body doesn’t naturally produce and need to be consumed through your diet. The nutrients found in dairy are: calcium, protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, phosphorus, riboflavin (B2), vitamin B12, niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), zinc, selenium, iodine and potassium. While all of these are essential to overall health, some are specifically crucial for heart health:
- Potassium: helps regulate the body’s fluid balance, maintain normal blood pressure, and is needed for muscle activity and contraction (and our heart is a muscle).
- Calcium: you may think of bone health, but calcium also plays an important role in muscle contraction and blood clotting, both important for the heart.
- Vitamin B12: helps with normal blood function and keeping the nervous system healthy (Pssst, this is only naturally found in animal products, making dairy a great source).
Now, not all dairy is created equal. Unfortunately, ice cream is not a nutritious or beneficial serving of dairy. The most-nutrient dense dairy is, of course, a glass of milk, followed by yogurt and cheese. Additionally, there’s a lot of variety in dairy, from fat content to lactose, giving you choices that work with your diet and overall health. All types of milk from fat-free to whole milk and lactose-free to organic, contain the same nutrients. So whichever is right for you, or you find the tastiest, is still contributing nutrient benefits.
In addition to dairy, these food groups can contribute to a well-balanced diet and improved health:
- Fruits and Vegetables: When consuming fruits and vegetables, try to purchase fresh produce. If you must buy canned fruits and vegetables, avoid those with high sodium and sugar levels.
- Whole Grains: Whole grains contain a higher amount of dietary fiber and protein which means our bodies can feel full with a lower amount of calories.
- Healthy Sources of Protein: Sources of protein like dairy, fish, legumes, and unprocessed and lean meats are great options for fueling your body and ensuring you get the necessary calories to tackle your day.
For optimal heart health, the American Heart Association recommends avoiding foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol as they increase your risk of heart disease.
Just like other food groups, moderation and balance is key. Not every body is the same or processes food the same way. Work with your doctor to find what works for you and provides your body with the nutrients it needs.
Although it’s American Heart Month, protecting and loving our hearts should be an everyday choice. For more information on American Heart Month or heart-healthy tips, visit the American Heart Association website.