Valentine's Day has passed and the heart-shaped candy has hopefully seen its last day or at the very least been removed from immediate view. In February, the heart-focused theme does not end on Valentine's Day. February is American Heart Month designated by the American Heart Association as "a time to battle cardiovascular disease and educate Americans on what we can do to live heart-healthy lives." Heart disease, including stroke, is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. What better time to show the love for yourself and loved ones by learning how to eat and cook for a healthier heart.
Here are 4 simple steps that you can take today.
|Heart Your Cart|
It's easy to "heart your cart" by filling it with up vibrant colored fruits and veggies, fatty fish, whole grains, unsaturated oils, nuts, seeds, beans, red wine, concord grape juice, tea, and other foods that fuel your heart with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols and other phytonutrients. You really are what you eat, and when thinking about eating for a healthy heart, think farm-to-table and choose a variety of foods in their purest and most natural form. Find out what's in season in your neck of the woods and take regular trips to the local market. Eating foods that are local and seasonal maximizes nutrition, helps area businesses and to top it off you get the best flavor.
Too much sodium in your diet can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Aim for less than 2000 milligrams of sodium each day, and less is better. Leave the salt shaker and pick up the pepper shaker, limit canned veggies, soups, high sodium condiments and processed foods. Look for foods labeled sodium free, low sodium, or unsalted. Heart healthy eating doesn't have to be boring or bland. Kick up the flavor of food and cut down on salt when cooking by using herbs, spices, nuts, fruits, extracts and vinegars.
|Figure the Fat|
"GOOD FATS": monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, olive and canola oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. These types of fat can help to lower your cholesterol level, which can help to protect against heart disease. Some foods are excellent sources of specific good fats, so familiarize yourself with the different types of these fats.
"BAD FATS": saturated and trans fats found in foods from animal origin, butter, margarine, shortening, cream, pre-packaged cookies, cakes and pies. These types of fat raise your cholesterol level, which can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Bottom line: Choose the GOOD FATS over the BAD FATS for heart health. Fat is calorically dense and extra weight contributes to heart disease so watch your portions.
|Cook at Home|
You want to control the amount of salt, fat and sugar in your food, so try to prepare most meals yourself. We are all crazy busy, so it's important to plan ahead. Over the weekend, jot down ideas for the following week's meals and stock up on those items. This way you have everything on hand to get dinner on the table without having to schlep to the supermarket. Trim fat off of meats, use low sodium broths in place of added oil, season with less salt and watch your portions. Some of the healthiest cooking techniques are grilling, broiling, roasting, poaching, baking and steaming. Trust me, once you start cooking (or get back into cooking) you will begin to notice just how much fat and salt are in foods that are prepared for you.
Slow and steady wins the race so take it one step at a time and keep your eye on the prize -- a healthy heart!
Diane Henderiks is on a mission to teach America how to eat well. She is a personal chef, registered dietitian, cookbook author and regular "Good Morning America" contributor. She manages two companies: Diane's Daily Dish, her personal chef service; and Diane M. Henderiks, R.D. & Associates LLC, her nutrition consulting firm. She travels the country sharing her expertise and engaging audiences at the nation's top food and wine festivals and women's events. Diane is renowned for her expertise in creating wholesome cuisine that is both delicious and nutritious. www.dishwithdiane.com