Eating for Your Health and Your Heart

Karen B. DeSalvoI can admit it: I love food.

In New Orleans — my hometown — food is serious business.

Gumbo? Yes, please.

Doberge cake? You have no idea what you are missing.

But my mother taught me a long time ago that what you put into your body, and how much, matters. As a doctor, I know that science has proved her right: Eating healthy and being physically active reduces your risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases and improves overall quality of life. So it all comes down to balance. If I want to indulge in treats like Doberge, I need to balance it by increasing my activity, which for me is running.

Luckily, the 2015—2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is full of recommendations that can help you choose and stick with the kind of healthy eating pattern that will lead to a better, healthier life.

Here is the good news: Eating healthy is not a rigid prescription. Instead, you should choose what to eat from a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, low–fat and fat–free dairy, lean meats, and other proteins while working to limit foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.

How can we make that goal a reality? Here is what I recommend to patients: Focus on making small shifts so that eating healthy becomes more manageable. Over the course of a week, a day, or even a meal, these small shifts can end up making a big difference. 

Change is hard. So I thought I would share my top five tips for small shifts that can make a big difference:

  1. Aim to cook and prepare food at home for as many meals as possible. Restaurant and processed foods are often high in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.  
  2. Explore ways to make meals healthier by adding more vegetables or reducing the amount of sodium added through sauces and dressings.
  3. Write it down. Keep notes of what you are eating (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and especially how you are feeling when you eat those foods. When you write down how you feel after eating or drinking something fatty or sugary, you might be less likely to do it again.
  4. Drink plenty of water. No need to add extra sugar and calories through your beverage choices. You can add a slice of fruit to your water for a quick boost of color and flavor.
  5. Look for ways to add in small amounts of physical activity every day. For many of us, it can be hard to carve out a large chunk of time each day. So I tell my patients to aim for 150 minutes per week by adding a walk or wheelchair roll during lunch or meetings and incorporating physical activity into time spent with family and friends. And if you are able, take the stairs every opportunity you have.

Want to learn more? Watch this video for more tips and examples of what you can do to get healthy.

I know you can do it. And if it helps, know I will be eating healthy right alongside you. Just try not to ask about the occasional New Orleans food splurge.