February is American Heart month, and eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly can help control body weight, cholesterol and blood pressure. All of these things are important to keep a heart healthy.
The key to good nutrition is eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, diary, lean meats and fish. These foods provide the body with the nutrients it needs for a strong beating heart.
Choosing healthy foods can seem confusing, but it does not have to be. One way to know if a food is heart-healthy is to look for the Heart-Check mark. This indicates that the product has been certified by the American Heart Association to meet specific nutrition requirements.
Keep in mind that not all heart-healthy foods are labeled with the Heart-Check mark. Recommendations for an overall heart-healthy, nutrient rich diet include:
• Fruits and vegetables — Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, and try to include all colors of the rainbow. These include fresh, frozen, canned and dried options.
One cup of 100 percent fruit juice is considered a serving of fruit; however, it does not contain as much fiber as whole fruit. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture, advises to be aware of added sugars often hidden in fruit juices and high-calorie sauces added to frozen and canned options. When it comes to vegetables, look out for added sodium.
• Whole grains — Choose whole instead of refined grains. The Whole Grain Council recommends whole grains in their most natural state. Refined grains are processed which removes fiber, iron and other nutrients. At least half of a daily diet’s grains should be whole grain.
• Dairy — Choose fat-free or low-fat — 1 percent — dairy products to include milk, yogurt and cheese. Low-fat dairy provides the same nutrients but has less fat than 2 percent and whole milk options, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.
• Meat — The American Heart Association recommends consuming red meats in moderation because they have more saturated fat than poultry. When choosing meat and poultry, look for the leanest cut without skin and prepare it in a healthy way. Try baking or grilling instead of cooking it in oil.
• Fish — Both the dietary guidelines and the American Heart Association recommend that adults consume 8 or more ounces of fish per week. It is important to eat a variety of fish containing omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, herring, sardines and albacore tuna. Omega-3s are beneficial to heart health and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
• Fats — Fat found in plant and animal foods helps absorb certain vitamins: A, D, E and K. Omega-3s and omega-6s are essential fatty acids because the body cannot make them itself. Good sources include walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, herring, soybean oil and canola oil. The dietary guidelines caution limiting saturated fat and trans fat in the diet for optimal heart health.
Try incorporating at least one healthy choice each day. Small changes in the diet can become healthy habits that will contribute to long-term health benefits, a healthy heart and a happier you.