Saint Louis University

BLOG: Heart Your Heart

Author: Lisa Kinsella
Published: Monday, February 11, 2013

February is often hallmarked by Valentine’s Day, the month’s crowning jewel of a holiday. February is the month of love, which makes it no surprised that the American Heart Association has dubbed February ‘Heart Health Month’. Often times we get preoccupied purchasing thoughtful gifts and crafting creative cards to express our love to our closest of friends and family, but we should not forget to show a little love to our own hearts as well.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns discuss heart health month

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, responsible for one in every three deaths. Chances are you know someone who has either struggled with or passed away from heart disease. Often times, heart disease is linked to genetic factors, but there are many lifestyle factors that we can take charge of to keep our tickers healthy and ensure we are around for many more years of Valentine’s Day celebrations to come. This Heart Month, give yourself the gift of a heart-healthy diet makeover with these simple tips:

  1. Eat the rainbow - Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, the more colors the better! Produce is packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber and are lower in calories. These foods will help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your cholesterol in check.
  2. Fiber up - Just like in fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains (like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa and whole wheat pasta) are great sources of fiber. Not only does fiber help to lower your cholesterol, but it also helps to keep you full longer so you will feel more satisfied with your meal and keep you at a healthy weight.
  3. Get fishy - Omega 3 fatty acids are heart protective nutrients found in certain fish such as salmon, trout and herring. Eating 3.5 ounces of fish 2 times weekly reduces your risk of heart disease by lowering inflammation and cholesterol levels.
  4. Skip the shaker - A diet high in sodium increases blood pressure, which also increases your risk of developing heart disease. To lower your sodium intake, avoid fast food meals, processed snack foods, canned soups and adding extra table salt to your food. Instead, experiment with new ways of seasoning like lemon juice, fresh herbs and other spices like garlic and pepper.
  5. Go lean - Choose lean cuts of poultry, pork and meat when making protein selections. Meat and dairy products contain saturated fat, which we want to limit in order to promote maximum heart health. Great choices include turkey and chicken breast, pork tenderloin, fish and low fat or skim cottage cheese, yogurt and milk.

If you find yourself in a dilemma this Valentine’s Day surrounded by monstrous boxes of chocolates and sweets, don’t fret! You can still treat yourself while maintaining a heart healthy diet. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants that counteract free-radicals in the body, which are responsible for cell damage and causing disease. These antioxidants (known as flavanols) also prevent plaques from growing on artery walls and help to lower blood pressure. All chocolate is not created equal, so look for products containing at least 70% cocoa solids, and enjoy in moderation of about 1 ounce several times a week. If you are really living it up, you can wash down your dark chocolate with red wine, another powerful source of antioxidants. Similar to the antioxidants in chocolate it reduces the bad cholesterol, but it also increases good cholesterol in the body. This antioxidant known as resveratrol is linked to prevention of blood clots. Enjoy up to 1 glass (5 oz) of red wine per day to reap its heart healthy effects.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns discuss heart health month


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