February is American Heart Month and we want to make sure you’re giving your heart some nutritional love. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and in Wyoming. As you age, your risk of having a heart disease increases; but that doesn’t mean that what you did when you were younger isn’t a factor. Starting healthy habits while you are younger can help prevent heart disease. By choosing healthy habits now you can also reduce your risk for heart disease.
There are multiple ways you can help protect yourself from heart disease. One lifestyle that can promote heart health is eating a well-balanced diet. A well-balanced diet includes whole grains, low-fat dairy, variety of protein sources and a variety of vegetables and fruits. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains provide your body with fiber, which has many benefits such as helping you reduce your blood cholesterol level and it may promote proper bowel function. Sometimes it’s hard to get 2 ½ cups of vegetables in every day, but it might help if you plan snacks throughout the day that include them. Vegetables and fruits are also low-calorie and nutrient dense so they can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, which can also promote heart health.
A well-balanced diet also includes eating a variety of different protein foods such as fish, poultry, beans, nuts and seeds throughout the week. Not only does varying your protein routine promote heart health, but it can also help you save money on food! If you’re looking for a healthier option while eating out, try poached, baked or grilled meat instead of fried. Fried foods contain more solid fats and often more sodium.
There are certain nutrients that can increase your risk of heart disease and it’s crucial that we try to limit these in our diet. This includes sodium, added sugars, and solid fats, all of which can increase your risk for certain types of chronic disease. Sodium can easily be found in packaged and boxed products like crackers, soups, chips, deli meats, cheese, freezer meals, and breads. High amounts of sodium are also found in fast food and restaurant foods, so by making food at home you can control how much sodium you consume.
Another lifestyle that can promote heart health is getting regular physical activity. The physical activity recommendation for adults is 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week, which adds up to 2 ½ hours per week. If you don’t have 30 minutes to set aside to be active all at once, try breaking it up throughout the day, 5 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes at lunch, and 10 in the evening, which will all add up! Pick physical activities that you enjoy doing, because this will help you maintain your level of physical activity. It’s also important to stay active throughout the whole year, make sure to involve yourself in some type of winter activity that keeps you moving! It’s also a great idea to get your whole family and/or friends involved in physical activity because it’s not only beneficial for them too, but it can make being active more fun!
It can be overwhelming to make big lifestyle changes all at once, so by starting with small changes it can help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. Often times it can take months in order to reach our goals, so don’t get down on yourself if you don’t see immediate results.
Author: Shelley Balls, MDA, RDN, LDN