February is American Heart Month, a great reminder to focus on keeping our heart healthy. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. with 1 in 4 deaths caused by heart disease each year. Heart disease, however, can often be prevented with some simple healthy lifestyle modifications and smart food choices. Try incorporating these tips into your routine this month and throughout the rest of the year. In addition, to these tips, we also have food swaps for a healthy heart.
5 Tips for a healthy heart
1. Shop for a healthy heart
What you bring into your house is what you will eat! In honor of American Heart Month, I suggest filling your shopping cart with plenty of colorful produce, whole grains, nuts and legumes. The fiber and phytochemicals in such foods are a boost to a healthy heart. And include heart-healthy unsaturated fats such as nuts, avocados, and olive oil in your shopping cart.
2. Begin your day with a heart-healthy breakfast
Eating a bowl of steel cut oats topped with berries is a wonderful heart-healthy breakfast choice. Oatmeal is rich in soluble fiber, shown to reduce cholesterol levels, making it a great option for preventing heart disease. This whole grain cereal is also rich in the minerals potassium and magnesium which contribute to a healthy heartbeat. I suggest topping your cereal with a serving of your favorite berries which contain heart-healthy antioxidants, polyphenols and fiber.
3. Swap your hamburger for a black bean burger
Replacing meat with legumes is a simple swap which may contribute to a healthy heart. Legumes—including black beans, lentils, and split peas–are a terrific plant based protein option and also a good source of soluble fiber. Unlike a hamburger, bean burgers are also low in saturated fat which the American Heart Association and Dietary Guidelines recommend we limit. So, try going meatless, for at least a few days, this February.
4. Go fishing (not literally)
Fatty fish including salmon, trout, albacore tuna, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, heart healthy fats which can decrease the risk of plaque in the arteries, lower blood triglyceride levels, and reduce inflammation. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends we eat at least two fatty fish meals each week. My favorite go-to fish meal is grilled wild salmon cooked with a drizzle of heart-healthy olive oil. And I love adding lots of colorful veggies.
5. Get active
Regular exercise helps to prevent heart disease while also improving overall mental and physical health. The American Heart Association recommends five 30-minute moderate exercise sessions each week. Choose exercises you love and be consistent: Biking, swimming, power yoga, and brisk walking are great choices. It is also simple to add exercise to your daily routine by taking the stairs and parking your car a few blocks away from your destination.
5 Food Swaps for a Healthy Heart
- Oats: Swap your Oat Bran muffin for a bowl of oatmeal
- Salad dressing: trade out creamy dressings with heart-healthy olive oil based dressings. Olive oil is rich in vitamin E and healthy fats.
- Croutons: Instead of starchy bread-based croutons that are often cooked in fats and high in salt, use roasted chickpeas to give your salad some nice crunch.
- Steak: Instead of a beef–pick a meaty salmon steak
- Strawberries: Rather than serving strawberries and cream, take strawberries, coat them in dark chocolate and then freeze them for a delicious treat.
Just a few small changes to diet to your lifestyle can pay big dividends and make you feel better. Give these a try, you’ll be glad you did.
—Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN.
Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN, is an internationally recognized nutritionist, portion size expert, and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. Dr. Young is the author of Finally Full, Finally Slim: 30 Days to Permanent Weight Loss One Portion at Time and The Portion Teller Plan and is regularly called upon by major media outlets as an expert voice on nutrition and health. She has been counseling clients for more than 20 years, blogs at www.drlisayoung.com, and inspires her community to make healthy food and lifestyle choices. Her Smart Lifebites stories include What can superfoods do for your health and 7 Nutrition tips to boost your immune system.