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Clean Eating for Better Heart Health

Oklahoma Heart Institute cardiologist Dr. Mathew Good and wife, Bethany, join us on the blog to share their tips for better nutrition for the entire family.

For many people the idea of eating healthy sounds completely boring. Images of tiny portions of tofu and steamed, slimy  kale parade through their minds. For others, the idea just seems overwhelming. Planning meals, researching recipes, grocery shopping, balancing nutrients, counting calories - it can all get downright intimidating. 

Perhaps you are one of these people. Or perhaps your doctor has suggested that you start eating healthier and you have no idea where to start. Should you follow a gluten-free diet? Pay to join Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig? Look into  South Beach, Adkins or Paleo? How about cutting carbs or dairy? And then you have to count points, count calories, count protein grams, count fat grams… and come on… who really has time to do that?

Whatever your outlook on healthy eating, or your reason to make a lifestyle change it can be easy, fun and absolutely delicious. A few years ago, after having our second child, we both noticed we needed to lose a few pounds. We were ready to get back in shape, get healthier and get our energy back to fuel a busy lifestyle chasing little ones.  

Here are five easy steps we have learned that can help  improve your heart’s health. Before getting started, it is really important that your loved ones are on the same page. Talk to your spouse, your friends or your children. Recruit friends, co-workers and others to make this journey with you. However you approach it, make sure they are on board and that you can support each other through it.    

Set a goal and make it attainable. For us this was 30 days. We pledged to eat clean with only one cheat meal a week for one entire month. In the beginning, each meal, snack and purchase at the grocery store had to be planned. Then we quickly realized how easy it was more time was spent in the produce aisle and way less money on anything pre-made or packaged. After 30 days we both noticed such a difference in how we felt and saw how easy it was to eat healthier that we kept it up. We started craving fresh fruit and vegetables.  Almond butter became a healthier alternative than peanut butter. We both had more energy throughout the day. Before our 30 days were up, we were hooked. We had both dropped a few pounds, were sleeping better and felt more energized to chase the  little ones and at the hospital.  Along the way, remember to reward yourself. Promise yourself that if you can stick with it for 30 days straight you will get some sort of  reward - think a new pair of shoes or dinner at a new restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, for example. Anything to keep you motivated. 

Get rid of all processed food: This is a tough one for a lot of people, but its one of the most important ones. We will have an entire post on this later. What is processed food? Basically anything created in a “lab” kitchen that has more than four ingredients whose names you can’t pronounce AND you’re pretty sure you would never actually cook with these ingredients/flavors/dye or actually be able to buy them at a store.  Go through your pantry and throw away everything that doesn’t match these qualifications. It is shocking how much of our diet is processed food. Researchers have shown many of these chemicals may be linked to cancer and other diseases and will absolutely drag your body down and hinder your journey to get healthier. Also toss anything labeled “enriched” or made with white flour or white sugar. Ridding your body of all of these chemicals, food dyes and toxins that were never  meant to be in food is crucial in getting your health back on track. So much of what the “health” food industry sells us as “healthy” choices aren’t - margarine, anything “low fat”, “non-fat”, diet or with sugar substitutes isn’t only not healthy, it’s downright dangerous. Multiple  studies have shown  links between the extra ingredients in these foods and health issues, including cardiac problems. You know all of those “healthy” vitamin waters? Not only are they expensive, they are filled with all kinds of additives ad sugar. Invest in a good quality water bottle and keep it filled with water. If you  need a little flavor add lemon, lime or our favorite - sliced cucumbers. (Tip: Use real fruit and vegetables - skip the powdered water bottle flavors.)  Instead of dessert, have fruit. You wouldn’t believe how excited our kids get when we tell them we’re having cinnamon apples for dessert - sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon. (Okay, they’re preschoolers and get excited about anything if you sell it the right way!) 

Be realistic. Okay lets be honest, while eating healthy is a lifestyle, everyone needs to cheat once in a while. Birthdays equal a cookie cake.  Christmas isn’t complete with out our famous prime rib. Our family follows an 80/20 approach. Eighty percent of the time we eat totally clean: lots of fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats from local sources, fish and nothing processed. Twenty percent of the time we allow ourselves some wiggle room. we have three little kids, so there are birthday parties, vacations, holidays, trips to Chick-Fil-A, meals out, daddy-daughter ice cream dates and room to “cheat”.  We want our kids growing up with a healthy balance. We want them equipped to make healthy choices later in life, not just be little healthy eating robots who have never been exposed to an Oreo. We’ve found that by allowing us those meals and days to cheat, our bodies are more than ready to get back on track the next meal. 

Menu Plan: Most people already do this, but taking 30 minutes at the beginning of the week to sit down and plan your meals and make your grocery list is huge. Look at nights that you know you’ll have a meeting or a later activity and plan to use leftovers or the crock-pot on those evenings. We’ll share more healthy, quick and yummy recipes with you in upcoming posts. Life is busy, but making room for this task will not only save you money, but also help you shrink your waistline.

Prepare your snacks ahead of time. Snacks are huge. We love to eat snacks at our house.  And yes, those vending machines at work can be so tempting - as can swinging through the gas station for a taquito late in the afternoon between appointments. At the beginning of the week when we grocery shop, we stock up on fruit, almond butter, raw nuts and seeds. As you’re unloading your groceries, rinse and chop your vegetables so they are ready to eat. Keep your healthy snacks within eyesight. Store them in small containers in your fridge or in a large fruit bowl on your counter. When you’re headed out the door to work or an appointment, throw a bag of nuts, or an apple in your bag. In addition to being prepped for snacks, you can easily add these chopped veggies to soups, salads, sandwiches, scrambled eggs or roast them for a side dish for dinner. In no time those potato chips won’t be quite as appealing and you’ll be reaching for the cucumbers and hummus. 

We’re very excited to share some of the simple ways we use as a health conscious family to stay that way.  Eating healthy is an essential part to keeping your heart healthy, along with regular exercise, and stress management, amongst other things we will address in in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!