Did you know that February is American Heart Month? It is understandable that a whole month would be dedicated to ‘heart health’ since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
By eating healthy and exercising you can minimize your risk for heart disease. Other ways to minimize your risk is by meditating and doing yoga, which helps lessen the stress in your life. However, the best way to a healthier heart is eating the right foods and limiting or avoiding others.
Let’s look at what to eat for a stronger heart:
Lean protein: Skinless chicken, fish, egg whites soy and an occasional serving of fat-trimmed meat (trimming fat before cooking meat or poultry; drain off fat after browning and skim the fat off of homemade soups and stews).
Produce: 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Fruits and vegetables provides minerals – and contain a substance found in plants that helps ward off cardiovascular diseases. Go for the fresh fruits and vegetables. If you have to go with canned, opt for low-sodium vegetables and fruits packed in a light juice or water. Red beets are especially good for your heart, circulation and liver.
Dairy: The calcium, vitamin D and potassium found in certain dairy products offer heart-healthy benefits, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women had a 26 percent decrease in heart risk from having dairy and men’s risk dropped 9 percent. Opt for the fat-free or low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese.
Dark chocolate: Certain chocolates that have not been overly processed contain heart-healthy flavonoids. Flavonoids are natural anti-oxidants found in cocoa, chocolates and red wine. The main flavonoid found in the dark stuff has also been linked to lowered blood pressure, improved circulation, increased blood platelet production and lowered cholesterol. Nutritionists recommend 1 to 2 ounces a day — just enough to get the healthy benefits without the hefty love handles.
Grains: Eating whole grain pasta, rice, breads and cereals (such as oatmeal) offer the heart and body with a number of healthy benefit. Whole grains (they contain the entire grain — bran, germ and endosperm), usually have a good source of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is linked to lower risk of heart disease, reduced blood pressure, and weight management.
Oils and fats: 2 to 3 tablespoons of fats and oils per day may be used for cooking and baking, and in salad dressings and spreads. According to the Mayo Clinic website, unsaturated fats (olive and canola oils, margarine without trans fats, avocado and sunflower seeds) help lower overall cholesterol. Beware: These are all high in calories so keep those portions small.
Nuts: The FDA approved the following health claim for nut package labels: “Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of some nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.” As good as nuts are they are also loaded with calories, so keep those portions small. The best choices are walnuts, pecans and almonds. However, if they are covered in salt, it will cancel out the heart healthy benefits.
At a Restaurant? Eating Out Smart
Preparing foods: The preferred method for preparing heart-healthy meals are: grill, bake, roast, steam, boil, poach or microwave. Enhance your meals with seasonings like oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, cilantro and pepper.
Water: Drinking water is an essential part of our lives. Water helps our body digest foods and remove wastes, it lubricates our insides and regulates our body temperature. A six-year study in the American Journal of Epidemiology examining 10,000 men and women aged 38-100 found a link between cardiovascular health and water intake. Those men and women who drank more than 5 glasses of water a day, reduced their risk of fatal coronary heart disease by more than 40 percent.
Here are some foods to limit or avoid so your heart stays in peak physical condition:
- White bread, white rice, white pasta, etc
- Heavy sauces, butter, whole milk and cream
- Pastries and sweets
- Coconut, palm, cottonseed and palm kernel oils
- Carbonated drinks
- Egg yolks and fatty red meats
A “heart smart” diet isn’t the answer to a supreme ticker … Eating right needs to be combined with an exercise regime in order to get all the heart-healthy benefits of improved circulation and reduced risk of heart attack, stroke and high cholesterol.
Wishing you a happy, healthy heart as we celebrate America’s Heart Month in February and always!
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