HEALTHY EATING FOR YOUR HEART

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Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and heart-shaped decorations—and treats—are everywhere. But American Heart Month also falls in February. And if you really want to do something good for your heart, step away from the chocolate and candy and reach for some heart-healthy food instead.

According to the CDC, heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Certain health conditions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can raise your risk your risk of heart disease. So can unhealthy lifestyle habits, including smoking, a lack of exercise, and a poor diet. But there’s good news. You can reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and adopting healthy habits. This includes eating a healthy diet.

A heart-healthy diet should be high in fresh fruits and veggies. And it should be low in salt, saturated fat, and cholesterol. To start, try cutting back on fatty meats, whole-fat dairy, and sweets. Eat more lean protein, low-fat dairy, and the occasional small treat. Replace butter with olive or canola oil for cooking. Swap out white rice and pasta for brown rice and whole wheat pasta. And try to eat a fruit and veggie at every meal.

And while you’re at it, add these heart-healthy foods to the mix:

  • Nuts: They may be small, but nuts are great for your heart. A handful a day is all you need to get heart-healthy benefits.
  • Fatty fish: Fatty fish have heart-healthy omega 3 fats. Aim to eat baked, fatty fish (like tuna, salmon, and mackerel) two times a week.
  • Oatmeal: Whole grains like oatmeal are a good source of fiber. Fiber can help lower your total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber a day and men should aim for 38 grams a day.

Try these ideas to get you started on heart-healthy foods:

  • Toss nuts with your favorite salad. Eat a handful for a snack. Or top a bowl of oatmeal with chopped nuts and a dash of cinnamon.
  • Bake salmon, tuna, or mackerel for dinner one night a week. Enjoy the leftovers the following day on a bed of spinach for a healthy salad.
  • Cook several servings of steel-cut oats and reheat single servings for a quick morning meal. Add toppings like blueberries, nuts, and low-fat milk.

Be kind to your heart this month by making healthy food choices.