The month of February is known for more than just Valentine’s Day. It is also known as American Heart Month. Everyone should take heart healthy steps towards changing their diet for lifelong benefits. It’s never too early to take active steps towards improving cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States (1). Here are a few tips to get you on your way to your own heart healthy diet!
The first thing to watch for is salt. One teaspoon of salt has almost 2400 milligrams of sodium! That’s what people should aim for as a total for the entire day! It’s important to really watch how much salt you use in both the preparation of food and how much you add to your food after it’s made. Start by choosing one; either add it while you’re cooking OR add it afterwards. Either way, try to make a conscious effort to start using less at all meals and eventually trying out different herbs and spices to give foods a lot of flavor without any additional sodium.
Also, be sure to read labels! A lot of packaged or prepared foods are loaded with sodium. The reason for this is that salt acts as both a flavor enhancer and a preservative. The good news is that there is almost always a lower sodium option available for most foods at the grocery store these days, so making the lower sodium choice doesn’t mean you have to totally give up foods you usually buy. Low sodium is defined as having 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving (2), so read those food labels and be sure to stock up on low sodium snacks, condiments and other ingredients. As a general rule, if there’s a low sodium option, regardless of the number, choose that one.
Another way to lower your risk for heart disease is by increasing your fiber intake. This will be discussed in greater detail in my next blog, but here are a few tips to get you started. Increase your fruit and vegetable intake, these foods are naturally high in fiber and low in calories. Aim for including fruits and vegetables into all your meals (at least 3 servings of each). This will ensure you’re getting a well balanced diet that is rich in nutritients. In addition to fruits and vegetables, swap out some of your enriched white products for some whole grain breads, cereals and other starches. Make sure the first ingredient doesn’t include enriched or bleached flours, this is the first sign a food is not a whole grain. Ideally, choose whole grain foods that have at least 4 grams of fiber per serving as well, this way, you’re on your way to meeting your daily fiber goals (25-38 grams of fiber per day is the recommendation for fiber intake).
Finally, work on lowering your intake of saturated fats and increasing your intake of unsaturated fats. Choose heart healthy fats like canola or olive oil, nuts and seeds and avocados and limit unhealthy fats from cakes, cookies, high fat dairy products and red meat. Heart healthy fats are protective of your heart and help to lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. While you still want to keep total fat intake to a moderate amount, getting good sources every day will help keep your heart healthy.
In addition to watching your sodium, increasing your fiber and limiting saturated fats, be sure to stay physically active in addition to following a well balanced diet to truly live a heart healthy lifestyle!