I am super excited to have my friend Melanie guest posting for me today for American Heart Month! We met when our husbands were stationed in Missouri and hit it off right away. We also both have personal connections to heart disease and want to help others live heart health lives!
Hi Food, Fitness & Family readers!
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Madeline a few years ago when we lived in Missouri. She found me on Twitter and we realized we had a lot in common so we immediately scheduled a coffee date. After hitting it off (yes, making adult friends is often like dating, ha) we decided we’d be gym buddies for the short time period before she moved. Madeline inspired me a lot in that time we had together and I love that we are still long-distance friends.
I am so happy to be here today to share some info on a heart healthy diet.
Heart health is one that is near and dear to my heart. My dad had his first heart attack when he was 38! I was just a tiny toddler but I remember a lot of lifestyle changes that my family undertook. My parents implemented family walks every night, healthy home-cooked meals, a careful watch on sodium intake. It was real. There were real life changes that needed to take place in order for my dad to stand a chance at surviving. Well fast forward 30+ years, Dad is still living a healthy lifestyle in Texas, post heart-transplant. And just to keep it real, he has far exceeded the survival percentage of post-transplant patients. There is no doubt in my mind that a big part of that has to do with the dietary changes he made along the way.
So what does a heart-healthy diet look like?
Are you sick of hearing about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables? Well sorry, that advice isn’t going anywhere! The scientific data all support the same claim and that is that people who eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily have a reduced risk of stroke and heart attack. Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and no pill or juice will replace them.
2. Good Fats
Research has changed over time regarding our fat intake (no more fat-free diets, yay!) and rather than focus too much on saturated fat, so let’s focus on the heart healthy fats you should be eating. Monounsaturated fats can protect people against heart disease by reducing blood pressure. Foods high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, olives, avocado and nuts such as peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts and pistachios. Chose these over high saturated fat foods like high-fat meats, whole-milk dairy and fried foods.
3. High Fiber
Soluble fiber can help reduce cholesterol by grabbing onto it as it pulls it out of your body, as well as helping to lower blood pressure. Foods high in soluble fiber are oat and rice bran, oatmeal, barely, beans, peas and lentils, vegetables such as brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes and squash, fruits such as berries, apricots, pears, strawberry, peaches, apples, seeds and nuts-yep those nuts again!
4. Low in Refined Carbohydrates
Low-quality carbs include sugary foods, soft drinks, baked goods, anything made with white flour. These foods cause a spike in insulin which then leads to a rise in triglycerides. Instead aim for high-quality carbs like oatmeal, wild or brown rice, quinoa and other whole grains and don’t overdo your portions of these types of food.
5. Limited Salt
Sodium in small doses is necessary for body function, however too much will draw excess fluid into the blood which can cause high blood pressure. Limit added salt to food, replace it with no-salt seasoning, spices and herbs. Read food labels and chose brands with less sodium and limit your intake of high sodium condiments like pickles, canned foods, soy sauce, marinades, etc. In 2010 the American Heart Association changed the recommendations to state that Americans consume less than 1,500 mg/day sodium, which is the level with the greatest effect on blood pressure; this recommendation does not apply to athletes, people who work in conditions where they are exposed to excessive heat or any else advised by their healthcare provider.
6. B Vitamins (Folate, B6, B12)
B vitamins have been shown to lower homocysteine levels, an amino acids and breakdown of protein metabolism, in the body. High homocysteine relates to a higher level of heart disease. Focus on food sources high in B Vitamins like oatmeal, peas, beans, lentils, spinach, mustard and turnip greens, broccoli, beets, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, berriesand fortified whole grain cereals and bread.
Sample Heart-Healthy Menu
Banana-Peanut Butter Oatmeal
One serving (1/2 cup dry) oatmeal cooked in water, non-dairy milk or low-fat milk. Topped with 1 Tablespoon of peanut butter, 1/2 banana and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup and cinnamon.
1 cup Greek yogurt topped with 1/2 cup berries (fresh or frozen)
Spinach Salad with Beets, Goat Cheese and Walnuts (Grilled Chicken optional)
A large bowl of baby spinach topped with dried cranberries, walnuts, tomato halves, sliced beets and goat cheese. Toss with a couple teaspoons of olive oil and balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
Packed with vegetables, beans, tomatoes, serve this high fiber dish with a simple tossed salad.
So there you have it! Not too difficult, right? These simple nutrition and lifestyle changes you can make can really turn around your risk factors for heart disease. Thanks for reading!
What is your favorite way to get in heart healthy foods?
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