While the death rate from heart disease has dropped in recent years, it is still the leading cause of death in the U.S. According to the American Heart Association, this year, 915,000 Americans will be told they have heart failure.
February is American Heart Month, and for the good news, there is so much we can do as individuals to reduce our risk of heart disease. Eating a heart-healthy diet, reducing stress, and getting more exercise and sleep can help decrease our risk of getting this disease.
A heart-healthy diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins (fish, legumes) and low in added sugar, saturated fats (margarine, butter, fatty meats), and salt.
As a nutritionist counseling patients on heart-healthy eating, I like to impart positive messages, advising them on foods they CAN eat to promote health. In honor of American Heart Month, here are seven foods to add to your diet.
Oatmeal is a good source of soluble fiber and contains beta-glucans, which may lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. This tasty whole grain may also help with weight control as it contains the winning combination of protein and fiber.
2. Chick peas
Chick peas are legumes also known as garbanzo beans. They contain protein, fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals including folate and iron. Chick peas are also good for heart health and may help reduce cholesterol levels. They can be used in many versatile ways including dips (think hummus!), stews, stir fries, and even salads.
I am a huge fan of tomatoes--tomatoes in salads, tomato sauce, tomato soup, you name it. Tomatoes contain vitamins and minerals which are good for the heart including the antioxidants lycopene and vitamin C and the mineral potassium. Tomatoes also contain fiber and are naturally low in sugar and salt. While I suggest topping your pasta with homemade tomato sauce, if you end up buying it, read labels and check the sugar and salt content.
Salmon along with other fatty fish including sardines contain heart healthy fats know as omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation, lower triglycerides and decrease the risk of plaque in the arteries. No wonder the American Heart Association advises eating fatty fish twice a week. Next time you go out to dinner, swap a steak for a piece of grilled wild salmon for heart health.
Cauliflower, the new "in" vegetable these days, is a cruciferous vegetable and a member of the brassica family alongside broccoli and Brussel sprouts. It is a nutrition powerhouse, chock full of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. It is also an excellent source of the mineral potassium which is good for the heart. And, it's also very low in calories so you don't have to worry about eating too much. To cut calories in your favorite side dish, instead of mashed potatoes, try making mashed cauliflower.
I am a huge fan of nuts and seeds and recommend them for heart health.
Almonds contain protein, the antioxidant vitamin E, and heart-healthy fats. They are also rich in the minerals calcium and magnesium which can help lower blood pressure. Almonds are also very versatile and add great flavor and crunch to yogurt, cereal, and salads. For a great snack on the go, portion out a one-ounce serving (23 almonds) into a small baggie or tin.
7. Olive oil
Olive oil is rich in the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and has been associated with heart health. It also contains antioxidants, including vitamin E and polyphenols, which protects blood vessels and other components of the heart. Because the calories add up quickly, watch your portion and stick to 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in your favorite salad.
And, in honor of Valentine's Day, also in February, indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate every now and then. It may even be good for your heart.