February is National Heart Health month, so what better time of the year than now to start focusing on improving your heart health with some simple dietary changes? Sure, eating right can help you look and feel healthy and fantastic on the outside, but its greater benefits start with your heart!
The American Heart Association recommends eating a variety of foods that contain fiber. Fiber is important to keep our digestive system regular and for lowering cholesterol. High cholesterol levels in our body can lead to heart disease, which can include stroke or heart attacks.
Foods containing fiber often are good sources of other essential nutrients, so you get more bang for your buck! Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain, high-fiber foods, beans and legumes are good sources of dietary fiber. The AHA recommends that at least half of grain intake come from whole-grain foods, such as whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal and brown rice.
Most Americans only consume about 15 grams of fiber per day, while the recommendation is almost double that. Not sure how to up your fiber intake? Start your morning with a high-fiber cereal ‚Ä" one that contains at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Or, warm up with a bowl of oatmeal and fruit. Enjoy your sandwich on whole wheat bread, and have a side dish of brown rice with dinner.
Fruits and vegetables not only contain fiber, but they also contain heart-helpful antioxidants that may protect against heart disease.
Eating more fruits and veggies may help you reduce your intake of high fat foods, such as meat, cheese and junk foods, which are all OK in moderation.
Keeping fruits and vegetables at the forefront of your diet is not as difficult as you may think! Try to include a fruit or veggie in every meal or snack. Not sure how? Add berries to your bowl of cereal, snack on an apple dipped in yogurt, stuff your sandwich with veggies at lunch, munch on fresh veggies dipped in hummus in the afternoon, and fill your plate with cooked veggies at dinner in a stir fry or veggie-based sauce.
Did you know that not all fats are bad fats? Unsaturated fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, salmon, and olive oil, may help to lower your blood cholesterol. Try to incorporate more of these fats in your diet in place of unhealthy fats. It is important to limit intake of saturated fats - found in meat and dairy, and trans fats ‚Ä" found in baked goods and some packaged cookies and snacks. Just to remember to moderate your fat intake because all fats ‚Ä" good or bad ‚Ä" are high in calories.
There are many other heart healthy changes you can make to your diet for the most health benefits.
--Try to cut back on sodium intake by consuming more fresh, whole foods and fewer salt-packed processed foods and snacks.
--If you eat meat, choose lean meats, such as poultry and fish, to cut back on saturated fat intake.
--Also, limit red meat intake to only one serving per week, since red meat is high in cholesterol and saturated fat.
--Plant-based protein foods, like beans, peas, legumes, and soy protein, are a great protein option since they don't contain any saturated fat or cholesterol.
--And don't forget to exercise to keep your heart in tip-top shape!
Incorporate these tips into your daily routine and you'll find that a heart-healthy lifestyle is easy and delicious! Love your heart: feed your body well.
Meanwhile, if you hunger for great meatless recipes, be sure to check out the 700+ vegetarian recipes served up daily right here at Diet.com!
Janel Ovrut, MS RD LDN is a Registered Dietitian who follows a vegetarian diet. She promotes no-nonsense, plant-based cooking so that eating is both healthful and enjoyable. Janel has a master‚Äôs degree in nutrition communication from Tufts University in Boston, MA. You can read many more of her blog posts at EatWellWithJanel.com.