Did you know that February is Heart Health Month? Heart disease is the number one killer worldwide, even before cancer. A silent killer, heart disease can often sneak up and catch us by surprise. The good news is that making healthy choices and managing your health conditions can help prevent heart disease.
If you are due for a check-up, call your doctor today to schedule your physical. If you have a family history of heart disease, it may be a good idea to meet with a cardiologist as well.
In addition to medical management, there are several healthy lifestyle habits and good nutrition practices that can help you live a heart healthy life.
Ditch white bread, try Ezekiel bread
White, refined carbohydrates are processed and contain virtually no heart-healthy fiber. Ezekiel bread is truly as healthy as bread gets. This sprouted grain bread is packed with healthy nutrients and fiber. Dietary fiber has been shown to help improve blood cholesterol levels and lower risk of developing heart disease. Plus, fiber helps to keep us full and encourages healthy weight management.
Avocados are incredibly nutritious and are loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. You can use avocado virtually anywhere you would use mayo. Try adding it as a spread to a sandwich or wrap, or substituting avocado in a creamy dressing.
Ditch store-bought dressing, try homemade vinaigrette
Have you ever looked at the ingredients lists for store-bought dressings? They are often loaded with excess sodium, sugar and additives. Making your own homemade vinaigrette only takes a few minutes, and can be made with whole, natural, real ingredients. Choose an olive oil base for healthy fats, and incorporate herbs and spices for added flavor.
Who else needs an excuse to eat chocolate? Dark chocolate is packed with healthy flavanols that can protect your heart. Dark chocolate specifically contains almost three times more flavanol-rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate. Opt for one to two squares for a sweet fix.
Ditch salt, try spices
Excess sodium intake can lead to increased blood pressure, causing the body to hold onto fluid. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for various cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke. Place the salt-shaker in the back of the pantry, and bring your spice rack front and center. Experiment with different herbs and spices to provide flavor without all the excess sodium. Try sodium-free seasoning blends, or incorporate aromatic spices such as cumin or cinnamon into your meals.
Instead of chips high in sodium and saturated fat, opt for light popcorn to satisfy that crunchy snack fix. Popcorn is a whole grain, and those who eat plenty of whole grains tend to be leaner and have a lower risk of heart disease. Try air popping popcorn kernels at home, or purchase light popcorn that is already pre-popped. Avoid excess butter and add-ins that defeat the purpose of eating this whole grain.
Ditch fried foods, try air frying
Fried foods are often laden with saturated fat, trans fat and excess sodium. People who eat fried foods are at increased risk of developing several diseases, including heart disease. If you crave the fried food texture, opt for an air fryer instead. Air frying can deliver a crispy texture with virtually a fraction of the fat of fried foods. Some air frying favorites include sweet potato fries or air-fried crispy chicken.
Soda and other sweetened beverages have been linked to heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. If you are hooked on soda, try to start slowly reducing your intake every week. There are a variety of naturally flavored seltzers on the market that are free of calories and sugar, but still provide that carbonated bubbly goodness. Swap one soda for seltzer a few times a week and wean off slowly.
Stefani Pappas, MS, RDN, CSO, CDN, CPT, is a Clinical Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer. She provides private nutrition counseling at her office in Great Neck, NY. Visit her website www.stefhealthtips.com for more information or call 516-225-1745 to schedule an appointment.