Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
Today marks Valentine’s Day in many countries. But did you know that February is National Heart Month? Perfect timing to think about your heart and how keeping it healthy can help you stay healthy so you are around longer to celebrate special occasions with your loved ones. While we can’t always keep illness away, we can definitely take steps to reduce our risk of developing chronic diseases, like heart disease.
To keep things simple, here are 3 easy diet tips to help you have a healthier heart.
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables I’ve put this first because there are so many benefits from eating fruits and vegetables. There is the most common reason, one we all probably have heard time and time again, that we gets lots of vitamins and minerals from fruits and veggies. It’s true. But there are some that are more important for heart health than others. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) recommends getting upwards of 10 servings of fruits and veggies per day. Many fruits and veggies are good sources of potassium, a mineral that helps to naturally lower blood pressure (works best when you’ve cut down on sodium intake). This is about double the typical message we hear of “5 a day” and it’s for good reason. If you aren’t at 5 servings yet, make that your first goal. Already at 5? Shoot for 10! Besides potassium, fruits and veggies also provide fiber. Fiber plays a role helping to lower LDL cholesterol and has also been shown to help lower blood pressure. Did you notice I said “eat more”? That part is important. Try eating more rather than drinking your fruits and veggies. Sure, smoothies and juices work here and there but it’s important to also work on eating those fruits and veggies.
2. Pay attention to your fats No, not your fat, but rather the fats you consume in your diet. Typically saturated fats are solid at room temperature. I think it’s safe to say many people know the big culprits for saturated fat in our diets. These include fats from animal sources (including full fat dairy, although there are some other benefits to those foods, but we’ll save that for another day!). While there is room to safely include some in your diet, these shouldn’t make up the majority of your fat intake and they shouldn’t replace the heart healthy monounsaturated fats. Guidelines on fat recommend no more than 10% of the diet coming from saturated fat. It’s even less (7%) if you already have heart disease. On the other hand, you want more of the monounsaturated fats. You’ve probably heard about this before. These are fats like olive oil, avocado, and nuts. In terms of fat needs and heart health, these should make up the majority. Just don’t forget that fat packs a lot in terms of calories so while you do want some, you don’t want to over do it!
3. Something’s fishy Hopefully it’s your diet! There’s room in the diet for a variety of sources of protein, both animal based (if that’s your preference) and plant-based (even if you eat meat, still aim for some entirely plant based meals). However, there is an added bonus for your heart if you included fish. Don’t worry, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can still find other foods to offer similar benefits. For those that aren’t opposed to fish in the diet, now is your chance to do something good for your heart. Fish contain (in varying amounts, so some more than others) omega 3 fatty acids. These fats have been shown to have a positive impact on heart health, making them a good choice to include in your diet if you are looking to reduce your risk of heart disease. The key here is that these fats should be replacing unhealthy fats in the diet. Decreasing saturated fat intake from other sources and replacing with fish high in omega 3 fatty acids may help to reduce bad cholesterol levels too. Fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, and trout are good sources. Although a popular fish choice, tilapia isn’t really a good option for heart healthy fats. Guidelines recommend getting 2 servings (about 3-4 ounces each) of omega 3 rich fish per week to benefit the heart.
Simple changes to the diet can have a big impact on your overall health. While there is no single good or bad food, there are healthy and unhealthy diets. Remember to step back and look at the big picture. You don’t have to give up everything you love in order to have a healthy heart, but you can make some changes to move that diet from a more unhealthy one to something that does more to protect your heart.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Will your dinner tonight contain any of these heart healthy suggestions?