February is the month for tender loving care, or TLC. We do extra-special things for the ones we love: buy them flowers, candy, or jewelry, cook special foods, take them on dates, and generally pamper them. We do this so that they know we love and appreciate them, but there is one thing you can do to really show your loved ones you care: take better care of yourself. Since February is American Hearth Health month, this is the perfect time to give your heart a little TLC, so you can live a long healthy life with the ones you love.
Watch Your Diet
The best way to give your heart some TLC is to watch your diet. A heart-healthy diet includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, low fat proteins, and low sodium items. You should also limit the foods that raise your cholesterol and eat more of the foods that lower your cholesterol. Eating a heart-healthy diet will also help to manage your weight, which will lower your risk of heart disease and lower your triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and total cholesterol levels while raising your high-density lipoprotein, or HDL levels.
Fruits and Vegetables
Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Vegetables and fruits are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating more fruits and vegetables may help you eat less high-fat foods, such as meat, cheese, and snack foods. Just remember that while vegetables are good for you, many of the toppings we put on vegetables are not as heart healthy. Heavy cheese sauces, ranch dressing, or breading your veggies, is going to limit how loving you are being toward your heart.
Choose Whole Grains When Possible
Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. You can increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for refined grain products. When grocery shopping, an easy way to identify healthy food choices is to look for the Heart-Check mark on food labels. The American Heart Association started this program to help consumers choose foods that are part of a heart-healthy diet. This mark on a whole-grain food product means that it:
- Is limited in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and sugars.
- More than half of the grains are whole grains.
- Does not contain partially hydrogenated oils.
Next time you are at the grocery store be adventuresome and try a different whole grain, such as whole-grain amaranth, farro, freekeh quinoa, teﬀ, or triticale.
Choose Your Fats Wisely
The term healthy fats may seem counterintuitive because fat is bad for you, right? Not so, saturated and trans fats are the ones that you need to limit. The best way to reduce saturated and trans fats in your diet is to limit the amount of solid fats — butter, margarine, and shortening — you add to food when cooking and serving. You can also reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming fat off meat or choosing lean meats with less than 10 percent fat. Healthy fats are monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats, found in certain fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, also are good choices for a heart-healthy diet. When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower the total blood cholesterol. However, moderation is essential; all types of fat are high in calories.
Heart Healthy Protein
There are a surprising variety of low-fat proteins. Legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, skinless poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy products, and plant-based alternatives. Legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are good sources of protein and contain less fat and no cholesterol, making them excellent alternatives for meat. Substituting plant protein for animal protein, for example, a soy or bean burger for a hamburger, will reduce your fat and cholesterol intake. Fish is another good alternative to high-fat meats. Certain types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats called triglycerides. You’ll find the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring. Other sources are flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, and canola oil.
Often the hardest change to make when trying to eat heart healthy is lowering your salt intake. Salt generally makes food taste better, so much so that sea salt is the new hip thing for chocolates and desserts. However, eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends:
- Healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon of salt)
- People age 51 or older, African-Americans, and people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
The worst part is that you don’t just have to watch the salt coming out of the shaker. Many processed foods are packed with salt. Be wary of foods that claim to be lower in sodium because they are seasoned with sea salt instead of table salt — sea salt has the same nutritional value as regular salt.
Take Care of Yourself & Loved Ones
This year during February, don’t just take care of the ones you love. Remember that by taking care of yourself, you are giving your loved ones many more years you can spend together, buying them flowers, candy, or jewelry, cooking special foods, taking them on dates, and generally pampering them.