A change of heart starts with a focus on diet
By Shauna Schultz, RD
February is American Heart Month, with a special spotlight on heart health. Nutrition plays an integral role in supporting heart health, as fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals work together to reduce inflammation, manage cholesterol, and prevent heart disease.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women with 614,348 Americans dying each year or one in every four deaths. In fact, chronic diseases make up the majority of the top 10 causes of death—and they are preventable.
Diet is an important factor in prevention, and it’s a modifiable risk factor. We each have the power to change our diet in ways that can influence other cardiovascular risk factors (such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes—which are also directly related to diet). In short, a healthy diet can help prevent, slow the development of, and manage heart disease.
Dietary factors that influence the risk of heart disease can cut both ways. Factors that increase the risk include diets high in saturated fat and trans fat, and those high in refined starches and added sugars. Saturated and trans fat increase LDL cholesterol, which increase the risk of heart disease, and refined starches and added sugars can increase blood triglycerides and inflammation. Fortunately, though, there are many dietary factors that reduce the risk! These include fibers, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.
So, how do we put all of this together to create a nutrient-dense diet? One simple way is to stick to the perimeter of the Co-op and focus on the following:
Pick Up Produce
Stop here first, always. CDC data shows that 38 percent of adults report eating fruit less than once per day, and 23 percent report eating vegetables less than once per day. If this describes you, then you should know that fruits and vegetables contain multiple heart and blood vessel protective elements such as vitamin C, magnesium, folate and antioxidants. Carotenoid-containing produce in particular (dark orange fruits and vegetables and leafy greens) stand out as antioxidant super-stars. The bottom line—eat a variety of colorful produce with each meal.
Here’s your chance to lower saturated fat intake. What you choose in place of saturated fat is equally important. A great strategy is to replace animal protein with plant protein such as beans or lentils. Plant proteins offer fiber, vitamins and minerals, which makes them a nutrient-dense protein choice. Or try fish, such as wild salmon, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids and keep make sure that the animal proteins you select are lean, and in small portions.
Buy Your Staples in Bulk
The BriarPatch Bulk Foods Department is the jackpot for nutrient-dense choices, with an impressive variety of whole grains. These grains provide fiber that help lower cholesterol levels (soluble fiber in particular is important), along with B vitamins, vitamin E, and magnesium to protect your heart. Try a variety of nuts and seeds for whole food sources of unsaturated fat. In particular, seek out nuts and seeds with omega-3 fatty acids, such as hemp, chia, flax and walnuts. And, don’t forget the herbs and spices!
Don’t Forget Frozen
Frozen fruits and vegetables add variety during the winter months and retain nutrients such as antioxidants to quiet inflammation and promote healthy blood vessels. Mix frozen fruit into smoothies and vegetables into stir-fries.
Take nutrition to heart this February by adding healthy meals and foods to your diet. If you need ideas, consider joining me for Color Your Heart Happy on February 16 from 6 to 8 p.m., where we’ll prepare delicious heart healthy dishes together. And, give the following recipe a try as well!
Check out the BriarPatch recipe page for more healthy, fresh meal ideas!