February is American Heart Month, but it isn’t the only month we should be focused on maintaining a healthy heart. A healthy heart is essential for sustaining a healthy body and a healthy mind year-round. Heart diseases are very serious and life-threatening conditions, so it is important to be “heart smart” by understanding risk factors and tips for prevention.
Here are five easy, heart-healthy tips:
- Be aware of your cholesterol. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, so knowing where you are in comparison with healthy averages can help you understand your level of risk. A 1% drop in blood cholesterol translates into a 2% drop in risk for heart disease!
- Serving sizes matter. Sometimes we are unaware that what we are eating constitutes way more than one serving. For instance, 1 teaspoon of margarine or vegetable oil equals one serving and 1 tablespoon of salad dressing equals one serving. If you are using more than this on a regular basis, make a conscious effort to change the habit. Be sure to check the packages of oils, nuts, salad dressings and other condiments, as well as dairy products to make sure that you are staying within a healthy serving size.
- Some fats are good. We often think of the word “fat” with a negative connotation. However, there are some heart-healthy fats that you SHOULD include in your diet: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and Omega 3 fats. Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, canola oil, and flaxseed oil. Polyunsaturated fats are obtained from sunflower oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and corn oil. Omega 3 fats come from fatty fish, walnuts, wheat germ, and dried beans. Challenge yourself to add some of these items to your diet!
- Balanced nutrition is great nutrition. In our diets, we have to find ways to get all of the nutrients that our body needs to function. For those of us who are constantly on-the-go, this can be tricky; however, with a few simple reminders, we can improve the balance of our meals. First, choose lean meats, such as chicken or turkey breasts, to get protein in your diet. Second, fiber is helpful in lowering blood cholesterol and decreasing risk for heart attack, but most Americans do not get nearly enough per day. Increase your fiber intake by eating foods like oatmeal, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Finally, there are a few simple ways to ensure that you are being “heart smart” when you cook. For instance, choose foods that are baked, broiled, steamed or grilled and definitely hold the salt shaker as much as possible!
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. Staying active plays a large role in lowering your risk for heart disease. Specifically, it helps increase your “good cholesterol” levels (yes, cholesterol, just like fat, can be good!) and lowers triglycerides. It works best if you work out consistently at a moderate level, such as 30-60 minutes per day at least 5 days a week.
For a more comprehensive explanation of heart health, check out Heart Healthy Eating by Lindsey McKeon, Registered Dietician and member of Food Wise at Southeast Psych.
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Lindsey McKeon RD, LDN, MA is a Registered Dietician who provides support for all eating challenges. Lindsey is a member of Food Wise at Southeast Psych, a family-focused program that concentrates on overcoming all eating obstacles including disordered eating, picky eating, and obesity.