Hearts aren’t on everyone’s mind this month just because of Valentine’s Day; February is also American Heart Month. This month raises awareness regarding heart health with the goal of preventing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. One of the major ways to prevent heart disease is adopting a heart healthy way of eating. This includes eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats and limiting foods that are high in unhealthy fats, sodium and added sugars.
Foods to include:
Fruits and vegetables – Try to get a variety of colors of both vegetables and whole fruits to ensure an appropriate vitamin and mineral intake. Fresh or frozen is optimal, or look for canned in water without added sugar, salt or fat.
Whole grains – Make at least half of daily grains high fiber, whole grains. Choose multi or whole grain breads, pasta, crackers and brown rice. Also include oats and high fiber cereals. Aim for 20-30 grams of fiber daily.
Lean proteins – Prioritize chicken, turkey, fish, eggs and lean cuts of beef and pork. Remove skin from poultry products. Also include plant protein sources such as legumes and soy foods (tofu, edamame, etc.)
Healthy fats –Unsaturated fats are in oils such as canola, olive, corn as well as nuts and seeds, including nut and seed butters. Omega-3 fats can be found in fish such as salmon, tuna and trout and also in flaxseed.
Foods to limit:
Unhealthy fats – Consume these sparingly. Trans fats are found in fried foods, baked goods and processed snack foods as well as margarine and vegetable shortening. Saturated fats are found in fatty cuts of meat, poultry skin and high fat dairy foods.
High sodium – Avoid adding salt to food, use herbs and spices as a flavoring alternative. Sodium is also found in deli meats and cheeses, processed foods and canned items. Shop for low salt or no salt varieties.
Added sugars – These are considered empty calories that provide no nutritional benefit. Avoid fruit juices, sodas and sugary drinks, choosing water or flavored seltzer as an alternative. Consume candy, cakes, cookies, pies, etc. in moderation.
It is important to watch portion sizes. Large portions, even healthy ones, can cause a calorie surplus that negatively impacts well-being. Also make sure to read nutrition facts labels when shopping, looking for foods high in fiber and healthy fats as well as low in sodium and added sugars.
Lifestyle factors that help prevent heart disease include reducing stress, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, getting adequate sleep and exercising. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.