Prepared by Director of Nutrition of CalorieCount.com Rachel Berman RD
While you are thinking about what to buy that special someone for Valentine’s Day this February, also consider giving yourself the gift of heart health. Whether you have dropped off on your New Year’s Resolution or just need a renewed sense of motivation, the American Heart Association’s designated Heart Health Month has come at a perfect time. Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in America and by making swaps in your diet you can take steps towards prevention.
Love it: Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats found in oily fish, enriched products such as eggs, and supplements. They can reduce your risk for heart disease by lowering blood pressure, increasing ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, and reducing inflammation in your body that can damage blood vessels. A study published this month in Circulation, also found that older adults with higher levels of omega-3 in their blood were 30% less likely to suffer from an irregular heartbeat. If you aren’t a fan of fish like salmon or tuna, you can also get a dose of omega-3 in with flaxseed and walnuts.
Leave it: Saturated & trans fatty acids
Foods high in saturated fat raise blood cholesterol which can damage your arteries and lead to a heart attack or stroke. Saturated fat is found in full fat dairy, meats and even some vegetable products like coconut and palm kernel oil. Read labels to avoid products with trans fat. It is a man-made product that increases ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and suppresses protective, ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
Love it: Fiber
Dietary fiber is the part of carbohydrate from fruits, vegetables, and grains that the body can’t fully digest. People with diets high in fiber are shown to have lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is thought to help bring lower cholesterol, help with blood glucose levels and aid in weight control which is essential for heart health. Choose whole grains whenever possible.
Leave it: Refined carbohydrates
When grains are refined, it means the bran and germ is removed and therefore, fiber is missing. These include foods like white breads, cereals, pastas, and sweets and should be consumed in moderation.
Love it: Antioxidants
Antioxidants help prevent disease by fighting the free radicals in our bodies that can cause damage to our arteries by increasing cholesterol buildup. Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other compounds found naturally in many whole foods like fruits, veggies, grains and dark chocolate. More research is needed on whether resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wine, is a factor in reducing risk for heart disease.
Leave it: Sodium
Too much sodium in your diet can increase blood pressure which in turn, increases your risk for cardiac related events. The first step is to get rid of the salt shaker and then moderate your intake of processed foods, cheese, cured meats and fish, salty snacks, canned soups, and condiments. By choosing foods low in sodium, you can naturally make room for more real, whole foods in your diet which contain fiber and antioxidants.