A Heart-Healthy Roundup
February is the month when whole sections of stores turn red and fill up with heart-shaped treats: most of them edible, and most of them very unhealthy. This February, in addition to celebrating the people you love, why not also celebrate one of your most important organs: your heart! We’ve checked with the experts and gathered the best heart-healthy advice from two well-respected organizations when it comes to heart health: the American Heart Association and the Cleveland Clinic.
Let’s start with the American Heart Association, which has some basic guidelines to follow:
- Use up at least as many calories as you take in.
- Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups.
- Eat less of the nutrient-poor foods.
- As you make daily food choices, base your eating pattern on these recommendations:
- Eat a variety of fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables and fruits without high-calorie sauces or added salt and sugars.
- Choose fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings.
- Choose poultry and fish without skin.
- Eat a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially fish containing omega-3 fatty acids.
- Select fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products.
- Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans-fat in your diet.
- Limit saturated fat and trans-fat, and replace them with the better fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
- Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
- Choose foods with less sodium, and prepare foods with little or no salt.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
- Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes.
The Cleveland Clinic has some specific recommendations for heart-healthy meals and snacks, including what nutrients they provide:
- Eat fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and trout.
- A handful of healthy nuts, such as almonds or walnuts will satisfy your hunger and help your heart.
- Berries are chock full of heart-healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber. Try blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, or raspberries in cereal or yogurt.
- Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and phytoestrogens to boost heart health. Take them in ground or milled form to reap the greatest benefit.
- Eat oatmeal: the comfort-food nutrient powerhouse.
- Dark beans, such as kidney or black beans, are high in fiber, B-vitamins, minerals, and other good stuff. Veggie chili, anyone?
- A 4-ounce glass of red wine (up to two for men and one for women per day) can help improve good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
- Try marinated tofu in a stir-fry with fresh veggies for a heart-healthy lunch or dinner.
- Red, yellow, and orange veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and acorn squash are packed with carotenoids, fiber, and vitamins to help your heart.
- Popeye was right—spinach packs a punch! Use it in sandwiches and salads instead of lettuce.
- Fruits such as oranges, cantaloupes, and papaya are rich in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
- Tender, sweet asparagus is filled with mighty nutrients such as beta-carotene, folate, and fiber, and only provides 25 calories per cup, or 5 calories per large spear.
- Tomatoes—even sun-dried varieties in winter months—provide lycopene, vitamin C, and alpha- and beta-carotene.
- Dark chocolate is good for your heart health, but just be sure that it’s at least 70 percent cocoa.
- Crisp, fresh broccoli florets dipped in hummus are a terrific heart-healthy snack with a whopping list of nutrients, including vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium, and fiber.