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love-your-lovin-musicle-cut-back-on-salt-and-sugarIt doesn’t get much more “American” than apple pie.

With the salty pie crust and the sweet, sugary apple filling, it’s a sure crowd-pleaser. Yet, some of the ingredients that make apple pie so great are two of the worst offenders when it comes to hindering your heart health: salt and sugar.

Studies show that sugar intake is directly linked to higher bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol – both of which are major risk factors for heart disease. Sugar consumption is also a major player when it comes to weight gain, which leads to clogged arteries and a stressed heart muscle. Salt, while on the other end of the flavor spectrum, is just as menacing. Too much sodium in the diet can cause the body to retain excess water, which can increase blood pressure.

It’s not easy, but it’s simple: a change in your diet could mean the difference between a healthy heart and a sick one. Here are some tips and tricks to limit your salt and sugar intake and show some extra love to your lovin’ muscle.

Know Sugar’s Alter Egos

If you want to limit the sweet stuff, you’re going to have to avoid more than just the word “sugar” on your nutrition labels. Diet expert Robert Lustic is a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California and the author of the book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Foods, Obesity and Disease. He recently released a handbook for grocery shoppers, containing all the sneaky names for sugar that food companies also use in their ingredients list. Things like fructose, fruit juice, fruit concentrate, dextrose and maltose are other buzzwords for sugar that you’ll want to avoid. The same goes for salt. Look for “sodium” and “MSG” and on your food labels too.

Shop Fresh

A pretty safe rule of thumb when trying to cut back on salts and sugars is to think fresh. Fill your diet, your plate and your stomach with as much vegetables as you can manage. Include fresh fruit too, but in manageable portions as fruits contain natural sugars. Processed and pre-packaged foods are the main culprits when it comes to nasty (and often surprising) levels of salt and sugar. Salt is a natural preservative, so it makes sense that food companies would use it to extend the shelf-life of their products. In fact, most of the sodium and sugar that Americans consume comes from strictly processed and pre-packaged foods. Stick to the edges of your grocery store – where the fresh stuff is – and you’ll go a long way towards better heart health. When eating out, go for fresher items in your meals.

Become an Ingredients Expert

Would you be surprised to learn that a 20 ounce bottle of vitamin water contains more than three times the sugar of a glazed donut, or that one can of carbonated soda has almost four times as much sugar as a donut? What about the fact that one little stick of beef jerky contains 20 percent of your daily recommended sodium intake? Well, stop being so surprised! Often, foods we think of as good for us - even foods that are technically low-calorie, like yogurt – can still be chock full of sugar and sodium. Study up on the foods you eat and the amount of sugar and salt you should have (or avoid) for a healthy heart. Put simply, read the labels!

Consider Artificial Sweeteners

Though there has been controversy surrounding sugar substitutes since their invention, the National Cancer Institute has concluded that there’s no legitimate proof connecting artificial sweetener to cancer or other health maladies. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has approved many sweeteners on the market, including several stevia variations. These sugar substitutes usually contain zero calories, which makes them a great alternative if you’re trying to lose weight! If you’re still not sure how you feel about artificial sweeteners, talk to your doctor or nutritionist to decide what’s right for you.

Be sweet to your heart by limiting your sugar and sodium intake. A little will go a long way in preserving the “shelf-life” of your most important organ, the heart!

Learn more about fresh ways to eat better here.

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