Heart Healthy Diet Tips for American Heart Month - SALTER College
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Heart Healthy Diet Tips for American Heart Month

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Making smart eating choices in February can improve your cardiac health

Close-up of different heart-healthy foods; including salmon, whole oats, blueberries, vegetables and nuts.

February is American Heart Month, and what better time to do all you can to minimize your chances of heart disease—the nation’s leading cause of death. You probably already know to stop smoking, exercise more, see your doctor, and drink in moderation. But do you know the secrets to eating for a healthier heart? Not to worry—we’ve got you covered.

Check out a few of these suggestions, based on advice from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Mayo Clinic, and make February the month you focus on your diet—to live longer and healthier!

Exercise some portion control

What you eat matters, but so does how much you eat. It’s too easy, especially if you let yourself get really hungry, to pile your plate high with food and then eat quickly to relieve that hunger. The downside is the extra calories. Restaurant portions are famously oversized in the U.S.

You want to show your portions who’s boss. You decide how much to take in. Give yourself a small helping of calorie-dense foods, such as meat and processed items, and heap your plate full of vegetables, fruits, and other foods that are high in nutrients and low in calories.

Here are some general guidelines about appropriate-sized portions: Meat, fish, or poultry: equivalent to a deck of cards. Pasta: the size of a hockey puck. That’s smaller than what you are probably used to, but you’ll get accustomed to it quickly. You don’t have to get out the scale or the measuring spoons—just start out with less. You can always help yourself to a second serving, but just make sure you’ve eaten the veggies and other healthy foods first.

Reduce saturated fats

You want less than 10 percent of your calories every day to come from saturated fats. One way to move towards this is to choose lean meats that are less than 10 percent fat (for example, ground beef that is 90% lean). When you’re cooking, use less butter. Drizzle a little olive oil over your veggies if you need extra richness, but you might find you like them plain, or with just a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and some cracked pepper. Give it a chance! Try low-fat yogurt as a sour cream substitute. Put fresh fruit on your toast instead of butter.

Choose: olive oil, canola oil, vegetable and nut oils, nuts and seeds, and avocados. Avoid: butter, lard, palm oil, bacon fat, gravy, cream-based sauces, hydrogenated shortening, and nondairy creamers. It’s also important to read food labels for processed snack foods like cookies, cakes, chips, and crackers, since a lot of these may say “reduced fat” but are still made with oils that contain trans fats. Avoid anything that has “partially hydrogenated” in the list of ingredients.

You can also add more healthy fat to your diet, so you feel satisfied. Flaxseeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids as well as fiber. Try grinding them up in your coffee grinder and sprinkling them on yogurt, cereal, or applesauce.

Limit your sodium intake

You should aim to consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium—which is about the equivalent of a teaspoon of table salt, according to the American Heart Association. 1,500 mg is an even better goal.

There are lots of ways to reduce your salt intake. Don’t use it as you’re cooking. Avoid canned or processed foods, unless they are reduced-sodium. Go easy on the condiments, because ketchup, salad dressings, and others may have a lot of “hidden” sodium.

Make better beverage choices

Stay away from sugary drinks. Try seltzer or club soda with a little fruit juice mixed in. If you drink coffee, avoid lots of flavored syrup, sweeteners, or creamer. If you like your coffee light, add milk instead of cream. If you drink alcohol, limit it to up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

Focus on variety

Eat a variety of vegetables in different colors: dark green, red, and orange. Cut them up and keep them in the fridge for snacks. Try a stir-fry with a range of veggies. Don’t forget about legumes, like peas and beans. Beans are a great alternative to meat as a main course, and they’re packed with protein.

Stay away from added sugar

Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars. A great way to do this is to increase your intake of fresh fruits. Also, avoid processed foods of all kinds that have added sugars. This requires reading some labels. Things to look out for are sweeteners, syrups, fruit juice concentrates, and sugar molecules ending in “ose” (like dextrose and sucrose).

If you already have heart disease—or know you are at risk—your best bet is to meet with a registered dietician or nutritionist. It’s possible to lower you risk if you follow an eating and lifestyle plan that is personalized just for you. But these suggestions should get you started. Within a few weeks you can adopt some heart-healthy habits, and start helping your cardiac health for the long term!

This post is part of the Salter College weekly blog. Contact us today to learn more about our various career training programs, including Culinary Arts and Medical Assisting. Request more information online or call our West Boylston campus at (774) 261-1500 to schedule a visit. We look forward to hearing from you!

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