Hoping to live a longer and healthier life? Prioritize your heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but it doesn’t have to be this way. About 80% of premature deaths from heart disease are preventable.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a healthy diet can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. Heart-healthy diets also benefit your well-being in other ways, such as by lowering your risk of dementia and chronic pain. The right heart-healthy foods for seniors really can change your life. But many people struggle with getting started.
A healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. Once you get started, you may find that the benefits inspire you to stick with it. Check out these great options for feeling healthier while still enjoying exceptional meals every day.
Heart-Healthy Breakfast Ideas
There’s no “right” way to eat breakfast. Instead, variety is the spice of life — and of healthy eating. Try incorporating some of these options into your diet.
You might think you need to steer clear of eggs because they’re high in cholesterol. Cholesterol levels are a major predictor of heart disease, but high cholesterol does not come from high-cholesterol foods. Now that we know this, expert opinion on eggs has changed. Today, the American Heart Association acknowledges the health benefits of eggs and recommends eating one egg or two egg whites per day as part of a healthy diet. Eggs are rich in filling protein that can keep your bones, muscles and brain strong. High-protein foods can also reduce food cravings.
Sweetened kids’ breakfast cereals are little more than a dessert. But if you love a morning bowl of cereal, you still have options. Whole-grain cereals and oatmeal are rich in whole grains and fiber. They’re also often fortified with important nutrients, such as folic acid and iron, ensuring a balanced diet.
Eating a fiber-rich diet is a major predictor of longevity. Fruit is chock-full of soluble fiber that can improve your health and prevent constipation. Fruits are also rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Eating a variety of fruit ensures you get the widest range of beneficial phytonutrients. Try sprinkling something different on your yogurt or cereal each day. Or follow these tips:
Enjoy antioxidant and fiber-rich berries such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries.
Seek out orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, oranges and cantaloupes. They’re rich in beta-carotene, which can reduce the risk of eye disease and heart health issues.
An apple a day really may keep the doctor away. Eating one medium apple daily may help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation.
Heart-Healthy Lunch Ideas
Enjoying a delicious lunch with a friend is one of life’s great pleasures. With these delicious options, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor at the altar of good health:
Omega-3 fatty acids can improve heart and brain health. Tuna and other fatty fish are rich in omega-3s and also high in protein. Low-sodium canned tuna requires no prep work and is great on a sandwich or crackers. For the most benefits, opt for whole-grain bread. Or try sprinkling tuna on your favorite salad.
Salads make it easier to eat a bunch of raw veggies at once, increasing your fiber and antioxidant intake. Liberally add whatever you love to your salad, and then round out the meal with a lean protein such as grilled chicken or salmon.
Remember that adding salty toppings and lots of dressing can reduce the overall health of your salad and add a bunch of empty calories. Try oil, vinegar, lemon juice and high-protein toppers, such as cashews and pistachios, instead of croutons or chips.
Soup is a great way to get a nourishing hot lunch, and a delicious sandwich — such as tuna! — dipped in soup is a great treat. Canned soups tend to contain lots of sodium, so opt for low-sodium options. Nutrient-rich soups, such as lentil soup, barley vegetable and hearty chicken soup, are better alternatives than high-salt, low-nutrient options, such as tomato soup and cheese soup. Increase the nutritional value of any soup by adding some canned veggies.
Heart-Healthy Dinner Ideas
There’s a reliable formula for a heart-healthy dinner, but that doesn’t mean dinner has to be formulaic. Instead, combine lean protein, whole grains and vegetables for a well-balanced, delicious, heart-healthy meal.
Some heart-healthy proteins include:
Fish, especially fatty fish such as tuna and mackerel
Limit consumption of red meat. For example, the Heart Foundation in New Zealand recommends consuming less than 350 grams of red meat per week. It’s also best to avoid cooking methods such as deep-frying and opt for healthier alternatives, including grilling and baking. Heart-healthy oils, such as avocado and olive, are better options than butter.
Some whole grains to try with your meal include:
Quinoa, which is also a rich source of protein
Choose vegetables you love. If you’re not a fan, try hiding them in pasta, salad or the main course. Some great options include:
Leafy greens, such as kale and spinach
Heart-Healthy Dessert Ideas
You may think you need a long list of low-fat, heart-healthy desserts. But fat is not the enemy. Instead, the goal should be to avoid trans fats and minimize saturated fat. Even then, low fat alone isn’t enough because low-fat foods can still be chock-full of processed sugar.
Consuming too much refined sugar can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and chronic inflammation. It’s true that if you spend all day with your hand in the cookie jar, you’re eventually going to feel worse. This doesn’t mean that you have to give up dessert or even scale back your baking hobby.
Deprivation-based diets don’t work. Healthy eating is about establishing habits you can stick with for a lifetime. And eating is one of life’s great pleasures, which means turning food into a battleground can affect your quality of life (and lead to disordered eating). Instead, it’s all about moderation. There’s no shame in having a slice of cake at a party or enjoying a serving of dessert or candy a few times a week.
You can also trade sugary snacks for more nutrient-dense desserts that help you achieve your health goals. Try these simple swaps:
Replace butter with Greek yogurt, unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana or mashed pumpkin.
Use whole-wheat flour instead of refined flour when you’re baking. Whole grains are rich in fiber, which can help regulate blood glucose and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Try using fruit as a topping. This is a great way to make a snack more nourishing.
Replace milk chocolate with dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, so it may lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Maintaining a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
Eating a balanced, varied, nutrient-rich diet is just one piece of the heart health puzzle. Heart health affects virtually every other measure of health, so protecting your heart can also protect your kidneys, brain and sense of well-being. Heart-healthy choices, such as exercising, can also improve mental health.
Try these strategies for a healthier ticker and a better overall quality of life:
Quit smoking. The health benefits begin immediately, and it is never too late to stop smoking. Quitting smoking can also make it easier to adopt other great lifestyle choices, such as exercising.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight or overweight can strain your heart.
Stay physically active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that older adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, such as running, per week. You should also do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days per week. The more you exercise, the more the benefits accumulate.
Start slowly. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Replace just one unhealthy food or habit with a healthier one. Or commit to exercising for just 5 or 10 minutes a day, then become progressively more active as you build strength and stamina.
Prioritize sustainable lifestyle changes over fad diets or quick fixes. The goal is to build healthy habits that feel natural and good into your everyday routine.
Get your stress under control. Chronic stress is bad for your heart and for the rest of your body too. If you often feel overwhelmed, therapy may help. Exercise can also help you burn off some anxiety.
Life Plan Community Living Makes it Easy
For many older adults, the biggest barrier to eating healthy isn’t knowledge or commitment — it’s time. It’s easier to pop something in the microwave than it is to shop for and prepare delicious, nourishing meals. And if you don’t love cooking — or would prefer not to do it every day — it can feel like healthy eating is sucking time away from the things you love most.
You don’t have to commit to a lot of prep work in a Life Plan Community (also known as a continuing care retirement community or CCRC). Residents enjoy chef-prepared, heart-healthy foods for seniors made with the finest ingredients. Inspired, farm-to-table fare keeps you healthy without ever compromising on flavor.
Healthy eating is just one pillar of the LPC lifestyle, though. Residents also enjoy amenities that promote a healthy, low-stress lifestyle, including fitness classes, walking groups, libraries, book clubs and much more.