February is American Heart Month, making it a great time to add some heart-healthy foods to your diet. What you eat has a direct impact on your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Too much sodium, either from what we sprinkle on or what's present in the food itself, 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.

Lemons

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.

Whole Grains

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. Try it in place of regular rice.

Non 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 very popular and is a great choice with even higher levels of calcium and protein than regular yogurt.

Nuts

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 (1/4 cup) or nut butter like peanut or almond butter (2 tablespoons) every day. Also try Brazil nuts.

Seeds

Seeds are little nutritional powerhouses, containing healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Try flaxseeds ground and sprinkled in yogurt (buy them whole and grind yourself for optimal freshness), pumpkin seeds sprinkled in a salad and my new 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.

Salmon

There's no getting away from wild salmon's contribution to heart health. It's 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 (try Fishtales) to get the freshest selection. If you just won't eat fish, try a good quality fish-oil supplement from Healthfare.

Garlic

Why not add some garlic to your salmon's marinade? Garlic contains allicin, which can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It's a tasty addition to many foods, so enjoy it. Garlic's pungency may make your family members complain that you can single-handedly ward off vampires. If so, add a little extra garlic to their plates so that you're all protected. 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

Like lemons, water doesn't have a strong nutritional profile. But it is a perfect replacement for unhealthy drinks. It's easy to get too many calories from sugary sodas, juices and drinks that have healthy names but are really just sweetened water. Too many calories lead to weight gain and being overweight is never good for our health. Each week, replace one sugary drink with a big glass of water. Build upon your success until you've rid your diet of the junky liquids and drink mostly water.

Lisa Corrado received her Master of Science in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport and her Culinary Arts Diploma from the Institute of Culinary Education. She makes busy people healthier by combining clinical nutrition with foods they love to eat. Contact Corrado at 203-972-3447 or Lisa@LisaCorradoNutrition.com. Visit her website at www.LisaCorradoNutrition.com.

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