With both Valentine's Day and the official designation of American Heart Month, February is a natural time to think about keeping your heart healthy. If you've had any heart disease diagnosis or you're at risk due to family history or lifestyle, this month's topic is especially for you.
What is cardiovascular disease?
Many conditions make up cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and high triglycerides.
What you eat has a direct impact on your risk of developing the disease. Too much sodium, either from what we sprinkle on or what's present in the food, can elevate blood pressure levels. Saturated fats can raise the bad cholesterol readings. The good news is that there are so many foods that will have a positive impact, reducing your risk or helping you manage existing heart disease.
It's not lemons' nutritional profile that makes them heart-healthy, it's their ability to replace salt. Both are flavor enhancers, so replacing some or all of the salt you'd use while cooking with a little squeeze of lemon will reduce your sodium intake.
You've probably heard that oats are great for reducing cholesterol. Why not try a new grain like amaranth? It's high in protein and nutrients like iron, calcium and magnesium. Plus, it can help lower cholesterol.
Nonfat or low-fat yogurt
Yogurt packs a healthy punch for lowering blood pressure. It gets its strength from lots of calcium and Vitamin D, plus potassium. Yogurt can be high in added sugar, so buy the plain stuff and add fresh fruit to sweeten it. Greek yogurt has become popular and is a great choice with high levels of protein.
But they're so high in fat! Yes, they are, but high in the cholesterol-lowering fat we want in our diet. I recommend a serving of nuts (a quarter of a cup) or nut butter like peanut or almond (two tablespoons) every day. Also, try Brazil nuts, which are excellent sources of immune-boosting selenium in addition to healthy fats.
Seeds contain healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Try flaxseeds ground and sprinkled in yogurt, pumpkin seeds sprinkled in a salad and, my favorite, chia seeds sprinkled in cereal. Like nuts, their high-fat content makes them a food to portion carefully.
Store both nuts and seeds in the freezer. No need to thaw before using.
Wild salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which do so much for your heart -- reduce cholesterol, inflammation, triglycerides, blood pressure -- and can raise good cholesterol levels. Shop at a good fish market to get the freshest selection.
Garlic contains allicin, which can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. To avoid garlic's sharp taste, cook before eating. Try roasting whole heads to spread on bread instead of butter or add to pasta sauces.
Water doesn't have a strong nutritional profile, but it is a perfect replacement for unhealthy drinks. Each week, replace one sugary drink with a big glass of water. Build upon your success until you've rid your diet of the high-calorie liquids and drink mostly water.