rachel_freeman_web.jpgEating right and exercising on a regular basis are two lifestyle changes that can have a positive impact on your heart and improve your overall well-being. Women often allow their careers and family responsibilities to take priority over their health. Preparing a healthy meal the entire family can enjoy can be challenging. But like most challenges in life, developing a plan is often the first step in making a change.

Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite foods or starve yourself. You can eat three to six small meals daily and still lose weight. Foods high in fat such as fried and sugary meals like cakes and pies should be eaten in moderation and reserved for special occasions.

The following are basic tips to get you started with a heart healthy diet:
• Review Nutrition Facts Label: Taking a few extra minutes to review the nutrition facts label on food that you purchase can help you make smart choices for the entire family.  Use the facts label to help you keep track of how many calories you eat daily. In general, eating 1,200 calories per day can promote weight loss for most women. A 1,500 calorie diet may be also a safe level for women to maintain a healthy weight. The facts label can also inform you about the bad nutrients in foods, such as saturated and trans fats, and the good nutrients, like fiber.

• Limit Daily Fat Intake: Limit to no more than 35 to 40 grams and replace saturated fats with mono and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are found in nuts and olive, canola and vegetable oils. Polyunsaturated fats are in fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and soybean and canola oils. Limit trans fats to 2 grams per day because they are bad for heart health. Increase your dietary fiber intake to 25 grams and reduce your cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day.

• Dietary Fiber Intake:  Eating 25 grams of fiber daily can produce many health benefits. Fiber helps promote normal bowel movements, may reduce your blood cholesterol level and slows the absorption of sugar. Eat whole grain breads and cereals to help increase your fiber intake. Other excellent sources of fiber include beans, berries, raw fruits and vegetables. Fiber also makes you feel full. So include whole grains and fiber rich foods at each meal to help you eat less.

• Serving Sizes: A nutrition guide for adults and children can be found on the United States Department of Agriculture website – MyPlate.gov — which provides a useful picture of a plate to help you understand portion sizes.  It also recommends that half of your plate should contain fruits and vegetables. Include a whole grain as your starch, eat a small portion of lean meat and choose skim or reduced fat milk.

Women can promote health and wellness by preparing low fat meals and by teaching their children at young ages to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. We must educate our families, friends and neighbors about the benefits of eating healthy. We can also serve as role models by practicing what we preach.

Rachel Freeman has more than 25 years of medical nutrition therapy experience at Jackson Health System. Freeman’s clinical interests are nutrition, exercise and wellness.