Valentine’s Day isn’t the only time of year to think about the condition of your heart.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February is also American Heart Month. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability among Americans, costing us more than $300 billion each year. Many of these deaths, rising healthcare bills, and lost productivity at work can be prevented by following a few healthier habits, including a better diet, proper exercise, and managing any existing chronic conditions you may have. Small steps can improve your chances of living a long, healthy, and productive life.
Healthy eating is an essential, but too often overlooked, part of a healthy cardiovascular system. Many of us say we’re too busy to make better dietary choices, but, considering what’s at stake, choosing more fresh fruits and vegetables and reducing sodium intake shouldn’t require a radical readjustment of your schedule.
This month I’m partnering with our friends in the county Department of Health to promote some simple meal choices to keep your heart healthy and active. Try to stick to moderate portion sizes at your meals, and avoid foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Many beverages, especially soft drinks, derive their sweetness from concentrated levels of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. These drinks can pack a calorific punch, so reduce your intake as much as possible.
The Department of Health recommends adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. A rule of thumb is to fill half your plate at meals with fruits and vegetables. The nutrients and fiber found in produce may help to control blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke. Toss in leafy veggies like spinach to casseroles, soups, and stews. Adding a few slices of avocado on your sandwiches and salads will provide a bit of healthy monounsaturated fat.
Fish contain the healthy omega-3 fat, and may help to lower the risk of coronary artery disease. Try to have a fish dish – that is, one 3.5-ounce serving – twice a week to reduce your chance of heart disease. Healthy fish include: sardines, lake trout, mackerel, herring, and tuna.
Chicken and turkey are lean meats that benefit from baking and grilling, to keep extra fat levels low. Some poultry has been injected with a saltwater solution during processing. This “hidden” sodium can affect your heart, so check labels and steer clear.
Other heart-healthy foods include oatmeal, barley, wild rice, brown rice, and quinoa. Cheese is a leading source of saturated fat in our diet, so remember to manage your portion sizes.
To learn more about the role of a healthy diet in preventing cardiovascular disease, please visit USDA’s Choose My Plate program at www.choosemyplate.gov, the American Heart Association at www.heart.org, and the county Department of Health’s Healthy Orange website at www.healthyorange.com. Remember: The heart is more than just a valentine. Treat it well, and it’s your key to a long, healthy life.