In February, we use Valentine hearts to show others we care. Why not think about caring for your own heart since heart disease is one of the main causes of death in North America?
You can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system by making a few changes to your balanced diet.
Begin by eating what you need, and not what you want. Even too much of the healthiest foods can impact your heart health.
Overloading your plate, taking seconds or eating until you feel stuffed gives you excess calories, fat and cholesterol. Instead, control your portions.
Typical serving sizes for specific foods are measured by cups, ounces or pieces. Becoming familiar with them will help you identify an appropriate portion.
For example, one serving of pasta is about the size of a hockey puck (half a cup). A serving of meat, fish or chicken is about the size and thickness of a deck of cards (two to three ounces).
Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals and are also rich in dietary fiber. Their enzymes and phytochemicals may help prevent cardiovascular disease.
Keep them handy for quick snacks. Store them in baggies in your fridge so you can grab a package as you’re heading out to your rig.
On the road, choose menu items with vegetables or fruit as the main ingredient, like stir-fry or fresh fruit salad.
Whole grains are also a good source of fiber and nutrients that help regulate blood pressure. Increase the amount of whole grains in your diet by substituting whole grain products for refined grain products. Try out dishes with these newly promoted grains: couscous, quinoa or barley. Ground flaxseed is another option.
Reducing the amount of saturated and trans-fats will lower your risk of coronary artery disease since a high blood cholesterol level can lead to atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque in your arteries.
Low-fat proteins are ideal, like lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and egg whites or egg substitutes. Choose the low-fat options, such as skinless chicken breasts and skim milk. Legumes are also a good source of protein since plant protein has less fat and cholesterol than animal protein.
Because eating a lot of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, reducing sodium is recommended, especially for people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
According to the Dietetic Association, the following foods should regularly be included in every healthy heart diet.
For protein or protein substitutes: Grilled salmon for omega-3 fatty acids; tuna for omega-3 fatty acids, folate and niacin; tofu for niacin, folate, calcium, magnesium and potassium; black or kidney beans for B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate; magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and soluble fiber; almonds for omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, fiber, mono- and polyunsaturated fats and phytosterols; or, walnuts for omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, folate, fiber, mono- and polyunsaturated fats and phytosterols;
For grains: oatmeal for Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, folate niacin, calcium and soluble fiber; ground flaxseed for Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and phytoestrogens; or, brown rice for B-complex vitamins, fiber, niacin, magnesium and fiber.
For vegetables: spinach for lutein, B-complex vitamins, folate, magnesium, potassium, calcium and fiber; broccoli for beta-carotene, Vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium and fiber; Sweet potato for beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, & E and fiber; red bell peppers for beta-carotene and lutein, B-complex vitamins, folate, potassium and fiber; asparagus for beta-carotene and lutein , B-complex vitamins folate and fiber; carrots for alpha-carotene and fiber; tomatoes for beta- and alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein, Vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber; or, acorn squash for beta-carotene and lutein , B-complex, Vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium potassium and fiber.
For fruits: cantaloupe for alpha- and beta-carotene and lutein , B-complex, Vitamin C, blueberries for beta-carotene and lutein , anthocyanin, ellagic acid, vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber; oranges for beta-cryptoxanthin, beta- and alpha-carotene, lutein and flavones, Vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber; folate, potassium and fiber; or, Papaya for beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, Vitamins C and E, folate, calcium, magnesium and potassium. For beverages: Soy milk for isoflavones, B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and phytoestrogens; black or green tea or for catechins and flavonols; or, red wine for catechins and reservatrol (but only when you’re not on the road).
For an occasional treat: dark chocolate for reservatrol and cocoa phenols. A truffle a day can lower your blood pressure, but only truffles with a 70% or higher cocoa content.
By adding more low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and by decreasing high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods, you can shape up your diet, shape up your waistline and shape up your heart.
This February, let your diet show your heart that you care.