Heart-Healthy Diet

Our hearts are the driving force behind all that we do. We associate the deepest emotion with its existence and energy. We write poems and read novels about falling in love and what happens when you have a broken heart. In February we celebrate Valentine’s Day, the Hallmark holiday of love, along with American Heart Month, the American Heart Association holiday of prevention. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, yet the majority of the risk factors associated with heart disease are lifestyle choices that we can influence, including our eating habits, physical activity, smoking, high blood pressure, and weight. Why not dedicate the month of February to learning your risk factors, sharing your knowledge with the ones you love, and formulating a plan for prevention?

Numerous tools exist in the virtual world to help you understand your risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Simply visit the American Heart Association to begin your own self-assessment. You can spread the word about heart health to the ones you love easily by sharing this article through your favorite social media outlets as well. Knowledge is power, and in this case knowledge is life-saving. One need not be 100 pounds overweight to be at risk of heart disease. Often risk factors can be silent until someone experiences a cardiac event. Assess your risk and proceed with conviction.

Many people say the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. This saying could not be any truer than in the case of heart health. The truth is, what men and women eat can affect their heart health as much as any other risk factor. Diet quality influences weight, blood pressure, risk of diabetes, and the ability to participate in physical activity. There are multitudes of fun, flavorful, and delicious ways to pump up your heart-healthy diet that your entire family will enjoy.

Fill up on Flavonoids. Flavonoids comprise a group of over 6,000 chemicals found in plants. These compounds are often responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their deep, vibrant colors. In our bodies, flavonoids act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, protecting blood vessels and reducing inflammation that can lead to cardiovascular events. Flavonoids are found in high concentrations in foods such as apples, apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans, tomatoes, dark chocolate, and green tea. I don’t know about you, but a dark chocolate heart seems the perfect way to say I Love You this February.

Find fiber in every meal and snack. Fiber has the natural ability to lower cholesterol by binding to it in the small intestine before the cholesterol is absorbed into our bloodstream. Fiber also is helpful at reducing cardiovascular risk, in that it helps to keep you feeling satisfied, thereby reducing daily caloric intake and weight gain. Adults should aim to get 25–35 grams of fiber per day, or 5–7 grams of fiber per meal or snack. Choosing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and popcorn each time you eat will help you reach this goal.

Opt for Omega-3s by substituting fish into your regular weekly routine. Studies indicate that the inclusion of two to three 3-ounce servings of fish in your diet each week can lower your risk of heart disease by as much as 30%. Fish is the perfect source of omega-3 fatty acids, the types that act to lower total cholesterol while keeping HDL cholesterol high, which is optimal. Salmon and tuna are often the best choices as they are high in omega-3s yet relatively low in mercury.

This year, as you express your love to those close to you, remember how important it is to love yourself as well. A little knowledge, self-care, and lifestyle adjustment can go a long way to prevent a broken heart.