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Three ways to harness the power of food to promote heart health

Your diet — the foods and drinks you eat, not short-term restrictive programs — can impact your heart disease risk. Dietitians and physicians use evidence-based approaches to eating to prevent and treat cardiovascular (heart) disease.

National Nutrition Month, with its 2023 theme of Unlock the Potential of Food, is an ideal opportunity to learn more about these approaches and adopt heart-friendly behaviors.

The Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS) Clinical Practice Guidelines recommend three main dietary patterns for lowering heart disease risk: the Mediterranean Diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and the Portfolio Diet.

Plant-based diets can range from entirely vegan to diets that include small to moderate amounts of animal products. Knowledge of healthy eating approaches is key, but behaviors harness the power of food.

Below are three ways to use to apply the potential of food to promote heart health.

They show that by combining the power of nutrition and psychology, you can improve your chances of making long-term changes. You don’t need to do this alone. We recommend requesting a referral from your physician (this helps with getting the appointment covered by your insurance) to work with a registered dietitian and/or psychologist (behaviorist) to co-create your own ways to unlock the potential of the food.

1. MASTER AND CONQUER THE 90% GOAL: Pick a goal you’re 90 percent sure you can succeed at while creating a plan to meet larger and harder goals in the future.

This approach will help you build confidence in your skills and give you valuable information about what does and does not work for you. Research shows starting with 90% of goals makes it more likely we meet future goals.

A 90% goal could be swapping out animal protein for plant protein — such as tofu or beans — at lunch on Mondays ( Meatless Mondays ). Another example: use a meal delivery service that provides measured ingredients with plant-based recipes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so you can get some new ideas about how to incorporate more plants into your meals.

2. WHY ELIMINATE AND RESTRICT, WHEN YOU CAN SUBSTITUTE?:  Pick a “do instead” goal or work with a registered dietitian to substitute healthier choices for your everyday foods and drinks.

Avoid setting goals that may make you focus MORE on the foods you’re trying to avoid (for example, “stop eating sugar”). Instead, the substitution approach can include things like choosing lower-sodium soup or purchasing pre-cut vegetables with the aim of reducing your starch portion at meals by half. Canada’s Food Guide, Diabetes Canada, and Heart & Stroke recommend that half your plate be vegetables.

3. SET VALUE-BASED GOALS: Connect your goal to something that deeply matters to you. While long-term outcomes (such as heart disease) may be the impetus for change, research shows that things that matter to us right now motivate us the most. Picking personal and meaningful reasons for change will help with the sustained change. For example, choose to cook one meal that incorporates a vegetable with a close friend or family member, so you can share the experience and spend time together. This example may be rooted in the following values: kindness, relational values, cultural values, empathy, and courage.

Research shows a key to changing diet is focusing on changing eating habits and food behaviors, one at a time. The support of a nutrition professional, such as a registered dietitian and/or a psychologist, can help you make informed choices and plans, tailored to your unique needs, situation, preferences, traditions, abilities, and capacity.

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