February is American Heart Month, and time to show yourself some love. Heart disease is the leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the US, so make some time this month to give your heart a check up.
While there’s not much we can do about risk factors like age, genetics, race and ethnicity, there’s a LOT we can and should do to control any other risk factors. Things like quitting smoking if you’re a smoker, limiting excess alcohol use, taking medications for cholesterol, blood pressure or diabetes as prescribed, exercising regularly, aiming for a healthy weight, and eating a healthy diet – are completely in our control, so do what you can here, especially if you have a family history of heart disease.
A hundred years ago when I worked in a hospital, a heart healthy diet was called a “Cardiac Diet” and meals consisted of unsalted broiled white fish with a packet of Mrs. Dash, a baked potato with margarine instead of butter, and some sort of overcooked green vegetable. Patients hated those cardiac meals, and no wonder. If your worried about what Heart Healthy tastes like – don’t be. The heart healthy diet of today celebrates color, flavor and texture, with an emphasis on fresh, whole foods seasoned with flavorful herbs and seasonings. Fresh fish, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, chewy and delicious whole grains, creamy avocado, fruity olive oil, crunchy nuts – they’re all foods that can lower your cholesterol, strengthen your blood vessels, and reduce inflammation, and they’re all part of a heart healthy diet.
I put together some of my favorite heart loving foods in this Heart Smart Grilled Salmon Salad, but you can pick and choose any foods from this list and make your own. Use this as a start – there are no wrong choices if you’re eating fresh, whole foods like these
Heart Lover Proteins –
These are all high in protein (your heart is a muscle after all), and very low in saturated fat. Plus – these proteins pack an omega-3 punch:
Heart Lover Veggies –
Choose bright colors for more antioxidants!
Any leafy greens (they also have omega-3s)
Sweet potatoes, carrots, red peppers
Brussels sprouts, broccoli
Heart Lover Fruit –
Any berries (highest in antioxidants)
Red, purple or black grapes (lots of resveratrol in the skins – the stuff in wine)
Melon – cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, etc.
Heart Lover Grains –
Whole grains with high fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals:
Forbidden or brown rice
Heart Lover Fats –
These are all unsaturated, and can lower your cholesterol
What are your favorite heart healthy foods?