February is American Heart Month, a time when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health. Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide? This may seem scary, but there are easy things we can do every single day to keep our heart healthy and prevent heart disease. One of the things we can do is improve our nutrition! We have to eat every day in order to stay alive, so why not choose foods that are “heart healthy”? Let’s break down what that means by food group:
Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits & vegetables are considered heart healthy because they contain compounds called polyphenols that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They contain essential micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables have an added benefit of being high in fiber, a non-digestible carbohydrate that helps you stay regular and may even lower your cholesterol. When you can, try to choose a wide variety of colorful fruit and vegetables in all forms – fresh, canned, frozen, or dried. Eat the rainbow!
Protein is an important part of a heart healthy diet because the body uses protein to build and repair muscles as well as make hormones. When possible, try to choose plant-based protein sources because they are high in fiber and associated with lower cardiovascular risk. Sources of plant-based proteins include edamame, tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, nuts and nut butters. When choosing a nut butter, look for one with no added sugar. Fish and seafood are also associated with lower cardiovascular risk due to their omega-3 fatty acid content. Aim to consume fish, such as salmon or cod, at least twice per week to support heart health. In terms of meats, choose lean meats like poultry over red meat, like pork and beef. Red meats are associated with higher cardiovascular incidence.
Whole grains are heart healthy because they contain a wide range of nutrients including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eating whole grains regularly can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 30%! Some good sources of whole grains include brown rice, whole grain bread, oatmeal, and whole grain cereal. Aim for at least half of your daily carbohydrate intake to come from whole grains.
In terms of fats, the most heart-healthy type of fats are the plant-based ones. Replacing animal fats with plant oils decreases cholesterol levels, preventing cardiovascular disease. Some examples of heart healthy plant fats include olive oil, walnuts, avocados, nut butters, and sunflower oil.
- Focus on your dietary PATTERN rather than single nutrients
- Engage in regular physical activity (ideally at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week)
- Reduce sodium intake to less than 2,000 mg per day
- Choose whole foods instead of processed foods whenever you can
As a reminder, you can’t do everything at once and sometimes you need a bit of extra support to reach your goals. Consider meeting with a dietitian at the Rec Center to help you on your journey to becoming a more heart healthy you!