Not only is Valentine’s Day around the corner, but February is also American Heart Month. Heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S.. What better way to show how much you love your heart than by making heart-healthy food choices? Here’s a simple checklist to help you eat for a healthier heart.
- Eat less salt.
Cutting back on sodium can improve blood pressure and heart health. The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 2,300 mg of sodium (about 1 teaspoon of salt) per day. Processed and restaurant foods account for more than 75% of the sodium in the average American diet, so in addition to putting down the salt shaker, make smart food choices and compare nutrition labels to look for lower sodium varieties—sodium can add up quickly! And watch out for the “Salty Six.” These six popular foods—cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, canned soups, breads and rolls, chicken, and burritos and tacos—can add high amounts of sodium to your diet.
- Switch out the saturated fat.
Saturated fats have been shown to raise “bad” cholesterol and increase heart disease risk. The American Heart Association recommends cutting back on foods high in saturated fat—choosing lean cuts of meat and fat-free or reduced-fat dairy foods—and replacing saturated fat with foods that contain “good”fats like avocado, vegetable oils and vegetable oil-based spreads, nuts and seeds, and fish.
- Cut back on added sugars.
Too much added sugarin your diet could significantly increase your risk of heart disease and contribute to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. And it’s never too early—eating foods high in added sugars throughout childhood is linked to the development of risk factors for heart disease in children and young adults.
- Enjoy seafood twice a week.
There are many kinds of fish in the sea—just find one or more that you enjoy. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are highest in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Fish can be fresh, frozen or canned, and there are many ways to prepare it. Try adding lemon, herbs and spices, and enjoying it baked or broiled instead of battered and deep fried or loaded in butter.
- Make half your grains fiber-rich, whole grains.
A diet high in fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Whole grains—like whole wheat, oats, brown rice, quinoa and farro—are rich in fiber and make delicious additions to meals, either as an appetizer, side dish or center of the plate.
- Fit in more fruits and vegetables.
Studies show that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories, fat and sodium, and contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Add color to your day by filling half your plate with colorful fruits and veggies.
- Practice mindful eating.
The American Heart Association recently published a Scientific Statement that reviews how the timing and frequency of meals influences heart health, noting that skipping meals and snacking can have undesirable effects. The conclusion: paying attention to when we eat as well as to what we eat can help combat emotional eating and lead to a healthier lifestyle. So slow down, plan and enjoy eating!
Share in the comments section below you plan to eat healthier for your heart.