7 Super Foods
February is American Heart Month — a great reminder to add to your diet super foods that promote heart health.
It’s February, a time to celebrate love. Chocolate kisses and candy hearts are lining store shelves, as we oh-so-sweetly welcome Valentine’s Day. And cupid couldn’t come at a better time, as February is also American Heart Month: one month set aside each year to take a closer look at the many choices we have for taking care of our “sweet” hearts.
With heart disease the leading cause of death in America (for women and men), it certainly seems wise to get heart savvy. Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And that’s what the American Heart Association (AHA) encourages when it says, “The chance of developing coronary heart disease can be reduced by taking steps to prevent and control factors that put people at greater risk.”
Super Foods with Heart
While you’re sending off Valentines and cooking up romantic meals, why not experiment with a few cardio-protective super foods for a strong heart? Healthy choices made every day, add up to big benefits. And what if an ounce of prevention looked like a chocolate candy heart? Now that’s a real sweet treat! This month (and every day), try to:
- Get Colorful with Vegetables and Fruits – A diet rich with vegetables and fruits is associated with lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease. Fill your plate with leafy dark greens like spinach, kale and red leaf lettuce, orange sweet potatoes, carrots and oranges, and red grapefruits and tomatoes.
- Aim for 5-9 Servings Per Day – Add a fruit or veggie (or both) to every meal and snack.
- Go Whole Grain – Powerful antioxidants and phytochemicals may be the reason people who eat three servings of whole grains per day have been shown to reduce their risk of heart disease by 25 to 36 percent and stroke risk by 37 percent. Whole grains include steel cut oats, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, bulgur (try as a hot cooked cereal), quinoa, popcorn, wheat berries (sprinkle on salads) and whole wheat bread.
- Bulk Up on Beans – Beans have tons of fill-you-up fibers for helping to keep weight in check, thereby decreasing risk. They are also a good source of soluble fiber for lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and potassium and magnesium for supporting healthy blood pressure. Aim for three servings per week, choosing kidney, lima, garbanzo, black beans, vegetarian refried, great northern and cannellini.
- Go Nuts – Nuts are loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and studies suggest that people who eat nuts two to four times per week have a lower incidence of heart disease than people who eat them less often. Stir a few into yogurt or oatmeal or sprinkle onto salads.
- Eat Fish – Studies show that eating two or more servings of fish per week (as recommended by the AHA) is associated with a 30 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease over time. Choose fish loaded with omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, lake trout, herring and mackerel for an extra-heart-healthy power punch. Try wild canned salmon on a bed of dark leafy greens!
- Enjoy Dark Chocolate – Well, not exactly a food group — sorry, chocolate lovers! Chocolate contains flavonoids, which are compounds with strong antioxidant properties that are being studied for their many anti-aging benefits. Though they won’t melt in your mouth, other flavonoid-containing foods include apples, blueberries, peanuts, grapes and grape juice, cranberries, onions and tea. Flavonoids may help protect the lining of blood vessels, decrease LDL cholesterol and decrease blood clotting. Dark chocolate retains higher levels of flavonoids than milk chocolate, and though chocolate is high in fat, the stearic and oleic fats in chocolate have a neutral effect on cholesterol and are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, respectively. So go ahead and indulge a bit, guilt free. Just don’t forget to save some for your Valentine!
Heidi Kramer of Cary-based Life Inspired Speaking is a nutrition specialist and inspirational speaker who has helped thousands of people to lose weight, change bad eating habits and become champions of their own health for more than 20 years. Reach her at 847.516.9038.