Love Your Heart!

Muesli with fresh berries

February is National Heart Month. It is the month to celebrate love and to start working on your heart health. What do you think of when you think heart health? For many people this brings anxiety about their last doctors appointment, or fear from family history. While there is a genetic component to heart health, there are also modifiable behaviors that impact your heart such smoking, exercise, stress, and diet. The last one is where I come in.

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I speak to many patients and community classes on a heart healthy diet. With all the fads out there, diets can be confusing and overwhelming. To help keep it basic, I stick to 6 basic building blocks for a heart healthy diet.

6 Building Blocks for a Heart Healthy Diet

1: Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables. Yes this again. You have probably been told many times to eat your fruits and vegetables, and for good reason. They are considered nutrient dense foods, because are packed full of nutrients and fiber while maintaining low calories. If you normally don’t eat many fruits and vegetables, try to add one to each meal and eventually work towards making 1/2 your plate fruit and vegetables.

2: Choose Whole Grains: These foods also are nutrient dense and provide fiber which helps lower cholesterol, maintain a healthy weight, and aid in overall digestion. Try to make at least 1/2 of the grains you eat whole grains. To know if something is a whole grain look for the word “whole” in the ingredients list or aim for bread products with at least 3 g of fiber.

3: Choose Lean Protein: Protein is important for maintaining muscle, a healthy weight, and healing. Most of your body is made up of proteins and there are 9 that are essential to consume because your body can’t produce them. Choose a variety of protein foods with lower fat such as poultry, fish, dairy, nuts, seeds, and beans. Red meat is also a great source of protein, but often provides more calories and fat so eat it sparingly.

4: Choose Healthy Fats: Recently this has gotten a little confusing with new research indicating saturated fats may not be bad for your heart. Saturated fat can still be part of a heart healthy diet, but we still recommend cooking with oils and eating foods high in heart protecting fats such as nuts and fish.

5: Consume 3 servings of Dairy Daily: As the link above indicates, recently new research has shown that the saturated fats in dairy might actually protect your heart. However if you are trying to lose weight it might be a good idea to still choose low-fat varieties for weight loss. If you struggle with satiety, full fat options may help you to eat less and stay full longer. Whichever you choose, dairy is a nutrient rich addition to your diet and has been shown to help with heart health, especially in lowering blood pressure (Dash Diet). It has also been shown to aide in weight loss and provides important nutrients for overall health.

6: Limit sugar, salt, and alcohol. Avoid adding salt to your prepared foods and eat mostly fresh foods that aren’t preserved with salt. Keep alcohol to 1 drink/day for women and 2 for men, and eat added sugar sparingly. Especially avoid sugary beverages.

Make some goals today, and start building a heart healthy future with these 6 building blocks.

Megan Ostler MS, RDN, CNSC, CD

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