Romance May Be In The Air Each February, But There’s No Better Time To Think About Your Cardiovascular Health
Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s Day—or neither—February is Heart Health Month and a good time to think about how you’re treating your heart. Your physical heart health, that is.
While heart disease is the leading cause of death for U.S. men and women, it’s also among the most preventable.
Ensuring Heart Health
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are several key ways to ensure heart-healthy living, including getting adequate amounts of both exercise and sleep, not smoking, and managing stress. But two of the most important components for heart health are eating right and maintaining a healthy weight.
So, what are heart healthy foods? Maybe you’ve heard of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Eating Plan, which is better known as the Dash Diet. With the Dash Diet, your focus is on eating vegetables, fruit, and whole grains as part of a 2,000-calorie per day plan, while limiting your intake of fatty foods, sugars, and sodium/salt. This regimen aims to lower (or at least control) high blood pressure, which can in turn help you avoid serious complications such as chronic kidney disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and possibly vascular dementia.
Here’s what makes Dash (and other plans like it) so good for you:
- Vegetables and Fruit – More is definitely better in this category. You’ve probably heard of “five a day” for fruits and vegetables. Do that, and you’ll slightly lower your heart attack and stroke risk. But with 10 servings, your risk is profoundly lowered (and if you’re chowing down all those fruits and veggies, you’re likely eating less of the bad stuff, like fat and sodium).
- Grains and Beans – Including whole grains in your diet can decrease your risk of heart disease by up to an incredible 30%. Just make sure you’re eating whole grains and not refined grains. And beans are winners because they not only are a heart-healthy source of fiber, but they also provide minerals and protein.
- Sugars and Sweets – Here’s a scary thought: A sugar-laden diet may raise your risk of dying of heart disease even if you aren’t overweight. Scientists aren’t sure exactly why sugar is so bad, but the link is undeniable. You may not be able to completely cut out refined sugar from your diet, but at least make sure to eliminate as much as possible.
- Sodium and Salt – Your body definitely needs salt, but the right amount. Getting too much sodium causes fluid retention, which can increase blood pressure. Your goal should be to keep sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams a day, which is roughly one teaspoon of salt.
- Saturated Fat – Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises your LDL (low-density lipoproteins) cholesterol level, and high LDL cholesterol levels increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Avoid (or at least reduce consumption of) fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, beef fat (tallow), lard and cream, butter, cheese and some other dairy products.
Making Healthy Choices Stick
Remember, it’s vitally important to make healthy eating decisions every day (as opposed to following a certain diet for a limited time). If you really want to succeed in transforming your daily routine, try making one healthy change per week, building new habits gradually so that you’ll be able to maintain them.
Oh, and if you happen to have a craving for chocolate around Valentine’s Day, do yourself a favor and ditch the box of sugar-laden sweets and have a little dark chocolate instead. As long as it’s low in sugar and saturated fat, dark chocolate is a heart-healthy choice because it’s full of antioxidants—which can reduce blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease.
Really want to eat healthier but need some help? In the Miami area, look to The Pickled Beet for delicious, healthy meals custom-prepared with the freshest ingredients. We work with individuals, couples, and families to find meals that are tasty, nutritious, and best fuel the body no matter what dietary requirements might be part of the equation. Contact us for a free consultation.