In case you missed it, February is all about the heart. From American Heart Month to the Wear Red campaign to raising awareness for heart disease in women to Valentine’s Day, the heart takes center stage and for good reason. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one cause of death of Americans each year and the number one killer of women each year. Those are tough statistics to digest.
Following a heart healthy diet doesn’t have to be an overwhelming challenge that makes you want to quit before you start. Below are a few swaps, or additions, you can make for meals throughout the day so that you are following a more heart healthy diet.
Oatmeal – You are probably already aware of the heart health benefits from eating more whole grains. The fiber in oatmeal has been shown to help your body maintain better cholesterol levels. Be sure to get plain rolled oats instead of the instant varieties, which will have added sugars and salt.
Apple – This fiber-filled fruit makes a perfect addition to any breakfast meal (or any meal really). Enjoy an apple chopped onto your breakfast cereal or tossed with Greek yogurt for a parfait. Alternatively enjoy apple slices on whole grain toast with nut butter for a heart healthy start to your day.
Tomatoes – The antioxidants and phytochemicals in tomatoes will make your heart feel loved. Plus these red beauties are easy to add to any dish. Add sliced tomatoes onto sandwiches or toss chopped sun-dried tomatoes in pasta or whole grain salads.
Black beans – The fiber and healthy fats in these beans make them an ideal choice for a heart healthy protein source. Add a half-cup of black beans to your salad or enjoy them in a soup to reap the benefits. If you are buying canned beans be sure to drain and rinse the beans first to lower the sodium content.
Salmon – This one comes as no surprise but having a fatty fish like salmon for at least two meals each week is like giving your heart a high five and telling it you care.
Dark leafy greens – The calcium, potassium, and fiber in the dark leafy greens will provide necessary nutrients for a healthy cardiovascular system. Enjoy the greens as a salad or sautéed as a side dish with a meal. It’s easier to eat more leafy greens when they’re cooked since they reduce in volume and lose water during the cooking process.
Snacks & Sweet Treats:
Grapes – This tiny fruit is packed full of antioxidants and phytochemicals that can provide anti-inflammatory effects for your body’s cardiovascular system.
Nuts – The healthy fat profile of nuts has an anti-inflammatory effect on your cardiovascular system and helps improve your cholesterol level. The fat and protein in nuts, particularly walnuts, almonds, and pistachios make them great snacks to ward off hunger and boost your energy during the day. Just be mindful that nuts are calorie dense so a small handful is all you need.
Dark chocolate – sorry milk chocolate lovers but dark chocolate takes the cake for health benefits in the sweet treats category. Dark chocolate has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels, just be sure to keep the portion control in check. You just need 1-2 squares per day to reap the benefits.
It’s hard to talk about heart health and not mention exercise. Getting some form of physical activity on a daily basis is just as important as a healthy diet. Take some time each day to squeeze in a short walk or other exercise, even 15-20 minutes will do. Getting into a healthier routine and making some simple swaps in your diet will do your heart proud.