February is American Heart Month, so it seems fitting to reinforce just how important it is to eat foods that are healthy for your heart.
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the world and the leading cause of death in the United States, killing over 375,000 Americans a year, the American Heart Association says.
What can we do to fight the disease? Liz Erker, a registered dietitian at Signature Medical Group, offers these tips:
- You are what you eat. We should be consuming a diet that is mostly plant-based, nutrient dense, low in saturated fat and low in sodium (salt). Fill your grocery cart with lots of color. Shop for foods in their purest, most natural form; buy seasonal foods.
- Be sodium smart. Americans consume way too much sodium or salt. Sodium increases blood pressure, an indicator for heart disease. We should consume about 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Watch your sodium intake by purchasing fewer processed foods. If you purchase processed or canned foods, look for labeling that specifies unsalted, low sodium or sodium free. Instead of using salt when you’re cooking, try using herbs, extracts, spices, nuts or vinegars to add more flavor.
- Keep track of fat. Americans consume too much fat. We should avoid the “bad” fats or unhealthy fats. Unhealthy fats are known as saturated fats and they are mostly from animal origin: cream, butter, lard, shortening. Saturated fats are also in a lot of prepackaged foods in the bakery, such as cookies, pies and cakes.
We should consume the “good” fats: polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish, flax seeds and walnuts. These “good” fats help lower cholesterol in our blood, which lowers the chance of heart disease. Even “good” fats are high in calories, so we need to cut back on our intake in our overall diet.
- Cook at home. This is vitally important. Home cooking gives you more control over what you’re putting in your mouth. Plus, you’re able to limit the amount of sodium, sugar and saturated fats added to your food. Once you start cooking, you will realize how much added fat and salt are in processed foods.
Think you’re a bad cook? Try taking a cooking class at a community college or go online and get recipe ideas and cooking tips. Also try watching cooking shows on TV.
Eating a heart-healthy diet doesn’t mean you have to eliminate a lot of the foods you like. Instead, it means finding good replacements for those foods. and, as always, limit your portion sizes.