Some Surprising News About Heart-Healthy Nutrition
Credit: Fruits & vegetables photo via Shutterstock

About 600,000 people in the U.S. die of heart disease every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

Many of these deaths could be prevented by addressing risk factors, such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, diabetes and elevated levels of lipids, according to the World Health Organization.

These are things we've known for some time. But what exactly does a heart-healthy diet look like?

For many people, it means cutting back on salt and cholesterol. That's good, but a recent study indicates that it may not be enough.

Sugars and starches may also contribute to heart failure, according to the study published in May in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The researchers suggested a molecule produced when too many starches and sugars are eaten, and causes stress to the heart.

I see this as just another study that tells us what we already know: We need to eat a nutritious, balanced diet in order to remain in good health. Cutting individual components that are proven to be unhealthy may be effective if you actually do it, but that can really seem like an uphill battle. We've all tried deprivation diets. Absolute torture, am I right? That's why I never recommend going that route.

Here are my best tips for tricking yourself into eating healthier.

  1. Try new foods. Every week, try a fruit or vegetable you've never had before. You may hate it, or you may find your new favorite veggie. When you have a new fruit to try, it can replace a dessert. This strategy will keep you thinking more about what you're going prepare, and less about what you're missing.
  2. Visit the farmer's market. When you get to pick out your own food, it becomes more of an experience than just heating up a TV dinner. You may even get to talk to the farmer responsible for growing that tomato. What fun! Let yourself roam free and buy whatever looks good to you at the moment. You can have fun picking out recipes for it all later.
  3. Have a meatless meal. Some people are surprised when I suggest preparing a "vegan" dinner once a week. There are some very tasty, and very heart-healthy, recipes out there that do not contain meat or cheese. You see, when you exclude the meat and dairy, you're also largely excluding cholesterol, and many unhealthy fats.
  4. Have a smoothie every morning. Here's a simple smoothie that tastes surprisingly good, and will leave you feeling amazing. Add a small handful of spinach, one stalk of celery (chopped), two cups of water, a whole banana and a half of an apple to the blender and blend. You can replace some water with ice to make it cold. You'll be surprised how much extra energy you'll have.

Healthy Bites appears on LiveScience on Wednesdays. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!