February is American Heart Month, which is celebrated every year to raise awareness for cardiovascular (heart) disease, which is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. To reduce the risk of developing heart disease, there are a number of things you can do, including eating a heart healthy diet. Eating healthy will not only be good for your heart, but can also aid in weight loss, which can diminish pain and restore function in your joints.
Jeanine Ledoux, MS RD LDN, is a Clinical Nutrition Manager at NEBH, where she educates patients on healthy eating practices and ensures that the cafeteria has a variety of healthy choices. Here, she provides some tips on making your diet more heart healthy.
The overall goals of a heart healthy diet are to decrease saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol intake while increasing unsaturated fat and fiber intake.
Recommendation: Eat less saturated fat
- Common sources of saturated fats include fried foods, whole fat dairy, and red meats. Saturated fats are believed to increase the “bad” cholesterol in your blood.
- Tips to try: switch from whole milk and yogurt to low fat, choose baked foods instead of fried, and use a heart-healthy oil instead of butter.
Recommendation: Avoid trans fat
- Trans fats are “man-made” fats that are known to be very bad for heart health. They are commonly found in packaged/processed foods like buttered popcorn, cookies, pastries, and cinnamon rolls, so avoid these temptations.
Recommendation: Increase unsaturated fats
- Sources high in this heart-healthy nutrient include most oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish.
- Tips to try: switch at least one dinner per week to a “meat-free” meal, utilizing fish, nuts, or legumes as your protein; cook with olive, sesame, or avocado oil instead of butter; snack on whole grain toast or crackers with peanut butter instead of chips; or add ground flax seed or nuts to your yogurt or cereal in the morning.
Recommendation: Increase fiber intake
- Top sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts/seeds, and whole grains.
- Foods high in soluble fiber (oats, whole grains, etc.) actually help to bind cholesterol in your body and excrete it.
- Foods high in insoluble fiber (fruits, veggies, etc.) help to fill you up so that you eat less unhealthy foods.
In addition to diet, physical activity is also an important part of heart health, so don’t forget to exercise on a regular basis!