February is American Heart Month. Did you know that eating healthier can improve several of your heart risks? For example, a healthy diet can help manage your weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure and reduce your risk for developing a stroke. Unfortunately, adults across all age groups fall short of meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association’s nutrition recommendations.
Here are 5 simple tips to make your diet heart healthier!
- Lose the saltshaker – Eating too much salt may increase your blood pressure, increase risk of developing heart failure, and increase risk for stroke.
Check nutrition facts labels, and limit your sodium intake to 2,300 mg a day. This leaves little room for added salt, as 1 teaspoon contains an entire day’s recommended amount. Try seasoning with herbs or citrus juices instead.
- Rethink your drink – Added sugars are a likely contributor to the obesity epidemic. Excess sugar is linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and inflammation in the body.
Choose non-sugar-sweetened beverages like water (tip: infuse with fruit or try sugar-free flavor packets), unsweet tea, low fat milk. If you need to sweeten, use sugar alternatives like sucralose (Splenda®) or stevia (Truvia®).
A 12 fl oz can of soft drink provides 8-10 teaspoons of sugar, which exceeds the maximum recommended amount for one day!
- Try wholesome whole grains – Whole grains are grains that have not been “refined,” or stripped of their outer shell (bran, endosperm, and germ). They are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and can help lower cholesterol, reduce risk of stroke, and may reduce risk of cancer.
Plain oatmeal can be jazzed up with fresh fruit and a tablespoon of almonds. Switch out white rice with brown rice. Quinoa is a hearty grain that provides protein and heart healthy fat and is a good addition to salad or an alternative to rice. Popcorn is a good whole grain snack if air-popped or made on the stovetop at home.
- Pile on the veggies – Inexpensive, versatile, and packed with nutrients, eat a variety of colors for vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Higher intake helps improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and reduce risk of cancer.
For an easy and flavorful side-dish, try brushed with olive oil and roasted in the oven (works well with carrots, asparagus, broccoli, squash, onions, peppers).
- Swap out fats – Saturated and trans fats (from animal products, butter, tropical oils such as coconut and palm, and partially hydrogenated oils) contribute to elevated cholesterol levels. Mono- and Poly- Unsaturated fats can help reduce your “bad” cholesterol (LDL), provide essential fatty acids, and antioxidants (like Vitamin E).
Choose canola, olive, or peanut oil instead of butter or shortening. Add avocado to sandwiches or salads in place of mayo or heavy cheese. Have a handful of nuts with a small piece of fruit for a satisfying snack instead of potato chips. Incorporate salmon or tuna into meals twice a week.
Here are some healthy recipes from the American Heart Association:
Sharla Boothe is the Lead Clinical Dietitian at University Medical Center New Orleans. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, and serves on the board of the local affiliate, the New Orleans Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Additionally, she is a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician, and is a member of the American Society for Parenteral & Enteral Nutrition. She earned her Master of Science degree from University of Southern Mississippi. Originally from New Orleans, she has lived in southern Mississippi and central Louisiana prior to making her way back to the city that instilled a passion for good food! Outside of nutrition, her biggest passion is a love for animals. She also enjoys finding new and fun ways to incorporate physical activity – some favorites have been biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, and yoga with baby kangaroos.