Getting to the HEART of February!
Hey – it’s February and while it was a balmy 50 degrees this weekend, it’s still National Heart Month! This means that while we don’t have any snow on the ground (at least for us Boston-based folks) we can all take some time to improve our heart health. There are many ways to do this, but most important are nutrition and lifestyle.
Heart Healthy Foods
There are many foods we can include in our diet to help take care of our hearts. Foods that are high in omega-3s are a good place to start. Omega 3 fatty acids are “essential” fats which mean the body can’t make them on their own and must get them from food. Good sources of omega-3 include salmon, vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seeds, and leafy vegetables. Additionally, a diet that is rich in vegetables and fruit provides the body with fiber and antioxidants, which help support heart health. Looking for a comfort for food? Try oatmeal made with low-fat milk, and sprinkled with cinnamon and berries!
It’s also important that we are mindful of our sodium (i.e. salt) intake to prevent high blood pressure. Sodium is found in most foods because it is a mineral, but there are some foods that have added sodium such as frozen meals, canned vegetables, and many sauces and marinades.
Eat Some Chocolate – Really!
Look for dark chocolate made with at least 70% cocoa. Cocoa is rich in flavonoids which are a nutrient that helps protect the body from toxins and helps to repair damage; flavonoids are a type of antioxidants. Antioxidants work to help prevent heart disease by increasing HDL (“good” cholesterol) and protecting the body against artery damage. So if you’re lucky enough to have any chocolate leftover from Valentine’s Day then perhaps it’s a good time to start incorporating an ounce of dark chocolate every couple of days. Other foods rich in flavonoids include apples, red wine, tea, onions and cranberries.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a combination of both. This may sound like a lot but exercise and being active does not necessarily mean breaking a sweat at the gym. It can be whatever your HEART desires – such as, dancing, walking, yoga, skiing, etc.
Stress management is very important for heart health. Some stress is good – it gives us energy, focus, and motivation. However, too much stress, too often can leave us feeling worn down, overwhelmed, anxious and irritable. Poor stress management can affect our health and may cause high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, higher cholesterol levels, and irregular heart rhythms. Relaxation is important for stress management and may include, improving your sleep patterns, yoga, taking a hot bath, reading a good book, listening to your favorite music, or visiting with a close friend.
Try this heart healthy recipe – Tuna Tacos!
(For some added heart health, swap out the mayonnaise and sour cream for Greek yogurt)
Written by Jill Merrigan, MS, RD