February is American Heart Month. The heart is the pump that keeps the body going. It has physical and emotional meanings for us so it’s important to take care of it. There’s also reason to believe that preventing heart disease may help with preventing dementia. A great way to take care of the heart is to be conscious of what we’re eating. These are some tips for a heart-healthy diet.
Fiber. It’s not the most glamorous aspect of nutrition but it’s extremely important for everyone. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to make sure you’re getting enough daily. Not only does it help keep you regular but it also helps lower your LDL – the bad cholesterol. For adult women aim for about 28g and adult men should get about 34g of fiber. These amounts can vary with age.
Fats. Not all fats are created equal. There are three types: saturated, unsaturated (mono- and poly-), and trans fatty acids. Opt for unsaturated fats like canola, peanut, and olive. These types of fats are less likely to clog your arteries compared to butter and lard. Omega-3 fatty acids, notably found in fish, are thought to help in several ways like clearing plaque in arteries and lowering blood pressure. Avoid trans fats as best you can. These have been shown to have negative effects on the body especially in terms of cardiovascular health. It is not found much in natural food, presenting mostly in processed foods, which, many dieticians can agree aren’t very good for you anyway.
Speaking of processed foods. Here it is again: Reduce the amount of processed foods you consume. Not just for the trans fats but the amounts of salt and sugar can be problematic. Keep an eye on nutrition labels to keep within recommended levels. When cooking, try using seasonings to flavor foods instead of adding salt. The case for sugar alternatives is long and complicated, so be mindful of how much you consume in general.
Manage portion sizes. How much you eat is just as important as what you’re eating. Excessive calorie intake can lead to weight gain which can lead to stresses on the heart. Actual serving sizes of foods may change depending on diet needs but it’s important to get the appropriate amount of sustenance. It may be a good idea to limit the consumption of red and processed meats while making sure to eat 3.5oz serving of fish twice a week. And be sure to get at least 5 cups of fruit and vegetables daily! Food diaries are popular for those looking to track their nutritional intake and it’s even easier with the growing number of apps available.
Don’t forget to exercise! Diet and exercise go hand in hand for living a heart-healthy lifestyle. Getting the blood pumping has many heart benefits like raising the “good” cholesterol, managing blood sugar, and keeping weight in check. 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise is a good starting point but always talk to your doctor before starting a new workout regime.
Quit smoking. There’s no way around it and you’ve probably seen it everywhere. All the hard work done through diet and exercise could be negated by smoking tobacco. Quitting may be even better than any heart drug on the market and it decreases your chance of dying from heart disease by 33%.
There are no shortcuts to health so it’s important to keep up with a healthy lifestyle. There is never a bad time to start but there may certainly be benefits to sooner rather than later. Let now be the time you take your health and your life in your hands.
Happy heart day!