March is National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle.”
The food you eat is just as important as regular exercise. Eating a heart healthy diet can significantly reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke and many other health problems. By understanding which foods are the healthiest for your heart, you can take steps toward a healthy lifestyle and greater quality of life. Improving your diet is a step in the right direction, but it can seem overwhelming at first. If you take a look at the big picture you’ll realize that it’s not about obsessing over each little thing you eat. It’s about how it all adds up. No food promises instant heart health, so your goal is to build healthy habits to support your new heart healthy lifestyle.
Good Fats and Bad Fats
Not all fat is bad. In fact, some fats are good for you! The bad fats increase cholesterol which can lead to heart related problems. Saturated fats and trans fats are the fats you need to limit. Some examples of bad fats are trans fats found in fried foods and saturated fats found in fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products. Packaged foods such as potato chips and cookies are not the best choices for a heart healthy lifestyle.
The good fats are essential to overall health. Foods made with olive oil, flax seed, avocados,nuts, or fish are full of good fats. Instead of snacking on chips and cookies, try some fresh fruit and veggies or a homemade trail mix with nuts and raisins.
High Fiber foods
A diet high in fiber can promote a heart healthy lifestyle. You can get most of the fiber you need by filling up on whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Some examples of high fiber foods include oats, brown rice, wild rice, whole wheat pasta, and flaxseeds. Most fruits and vegetables are high in fiber too. Fruit salad and veggie stir-frys are great and delicious ways to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet.
Excessive amounts of salt can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart related issues. The American Heart Association recommends only one teaspoon of salt a day! That doesn’t sound like much, but there are many delicious and heart healthy alternatives. Try using spices to season your dishes instead of salt. Keep in mind, canned foods often contain high amounts of salt. Try to stick with fresh or frozen versions of your favorite foods.
Planning and Shopping Tips
Now that you know the basics of a heart healthy diet, you can begin to implement these choices into your meal planning. A heart healthy diet does not have to be expensive. In fact, you may find yourself saving money at the checkout.
- Sit down and think about meals that you already make that include heart healthy choices. You might find some of your favorite meals can be made heart healthy by substituting whole wheat pasta for traditional white pasta or brown rice for white rice. Try cutting out the added salt in your favorite recipe. You probably won’t even notice it’s missing!
- Take a look at the sales ad for the week. Plan your meals for the week around the heart healthy lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables that are on sale. Buying seasonal produce can save you money because it’s less expensive than buying out of season produce. For example, strawberry season is usually in May or June, so buying strawberries in March can be quite a bit more expensive.
- Don’t be afraid to try new foods! You might find that you like them. Look for heart healthy recipes to add to your favorites. The American Heart Association has several on their website, and there are many cookbooks and website with ideas.
- Keep list of heart healthy meal ideas. This will make meal planning quick and easy. You will just pick your meals for the week, and head to the store. Don’t forget to add those new dishes to your list to keep it updated and growing. Having a list full of heart healthy choices will help you stick to your goals.
- Be sure to involve each member of the family. Maybe each person can select a favorite meal or heart healthy side. The kids may even enjoy helping you make dinner. Getting everyone involved and find foods that your family enjoys together will help everyone in the family create healthy habits.
Remember, the key to creating healthy habits is to stick with it. No one is perfect. If you fall off the wagon and eat a cheeseburger for lunch, hop back on and try to make a better choice for dinner. A healthy lifestyle is an overall change, not a one day commitment. It takes a while to form healthy habits, but each heart healthy choice you make improves your overall health.