We tend to focus on heart health during the month of February because, yes, it’s officially Heart Health Awareness Month. It is a time where we look to raise awareness about heart disease, especially how we can prevent it. Recent statistics from the U.S. tell us that heart disease remains the number one cause of death for both women and men. We lose over 600,000 individuals every year due to heart disease, with coronary heart disease (clogged arteries) being the biggest killer.
And sadly, this is a largely preventable disease.
Heart-healthy lifestyle changes go a long way in preventing and in some cases reversing heart disease. Weight management through healthy eating and fitness, stress management and quitting smoking must all be top priorities. Not too long ago, doctors and nutritionists were recommending a low- to no-fat diet, which unfortunately lead to an increased consumption of carbohydrates, too often in the form of refined flour and sugar. New research suggests that heart healthy fats from sources like olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, and omega-3 fatty acids can be protective against coronary heart disease.
Here’s what else we should be eating:
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower
Other vegetables like lettuces, carrots, celery, jicama, zucchini
High fiber foods like lentils, garbanzo beans, black beans, flaxseed, nuts, and seeds
Fruits like apples, pears, prunes, oranges (the whole fruit, NOT the juice)
Fish high in omega-3s like wild salmon and trout
Whole grains like amaranth, oats, brown rice, and quinoa (not actually a grain, by the way)
Here’s what we should NOT be eating:
Soda (regular and/or diet)
Baked goods (cake, cookies, bagels, muffins)
Juice (too much sugar)
Trans fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, fake coffee creamers, margarine)
Vigorous exercise should be a part of our lives. Do we really need recommendations when we know we feel better when we move our bodies? Aim for every day, yes, every day. If you get in 5 days a week, great. Interval training is particular effective. Even walking is great for the heart.
Two overlooked nutrients that are essential for heart health include magnesium and Vitamin D. Magnesium is a bit easy to get through foods: dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and some whole grains contain amounts of magnesium. Vitamin D is found in some fatty foods like fish and egg yolks, but most of us rely on Mother Nature (the sun) to get our fix. Still, an estimated 75% of U.S. teens and adults may be deficient in Vitamin D. This deficiency increases our risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and other forms of heart disease (in addition to making us more susceptible to frequent illnesses) . Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels.
And finally, given that it is heart health awareness month, don’t be afraid to express yourself – your love, your emotions. Holding things in, feeling stressed out, holding a grudge – these things create inflammation in our bodies, which in turn can actually damage our hearts. So let is out, spread love, spread joy, forgive and live with your heart out loud.