Eat a healthy diet. Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid heart disease and its complications.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables -- as an adult you should have at least 5 servings each day. Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals. They are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease.
- Eat whole grains. Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. You can increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for refined grain products (whole wheat bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white, whole wheat pasta instead of enriched white flour pasta, whole wheat flour instead of enriched white flour). You could also be adventuresome and try a new whole grain, such as whole-grain couscous, quinoa, or barley. Another easy way to add whole grains to your diet is ground flaxseed. Flaxseeds are small brown seeds that are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your total blood cholesterol. Stir them into yogurt, applesauce, hot cereal, etc for added fiber and heart healthy nutrients!
- Limit how much saturated and trans fats you eat. Limiting these fats is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease. A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaques in your arteries which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. The best way to reduce saturated and trans fats in your diet is to limit the amount of solid fats (butter, margarine and shortening) you add to food when cooking and serving. You can also reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming fat off your meat or choosing lean meats with less than 10 percent fat.
- Choose monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil or canola oil) and polyunsaturated fats (found in nuts and seeds) when consuming fats. These types of fat are good choices for a heart-healthy diet. When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower your total blood cholesterol. Moderation is essential. All types of fat are high in calories.
- Choose low fat protein sources. Lean meat, lean poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products, and egg whites or egg substitutes are some of your best sources of protein. Certain types of fish are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats called triglycerides. The highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3 = polyunsaturated fat) are in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring (non-fish sources of omega-3s are flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, olive oil, and canola oil). Legumes (beans, peas and lentils) are also good sources of protein and contain less fat than meat and no cholesterol, making them good protein substitutes for meat. Substituting plant protein for animal protein will reduce your fat and cholesterol intake.
- Reduce the sodium you intake. Eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure. Reducing sodium is an important part of a heart healthy diet. You can reduce the amount of salt you add to food at the table or while cooking by using herbs and spices in place of salt for flavor. A lot of the salt in your diet also comes from canned or processed foods, so challenge yourself to make your own foods and to eat more fresh foods. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that a healthy adult has no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, while an individual with risk factors for heart disease has no more than 1,500mg of sodium a day. To give you a more realistic vision of this recommendation consider the following information:
- 1/4 teaspoon salt = 600 mg sodium
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,200 mg sodium
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,800 mg sodium
1 teaspoon salt = 2,400 mg sodium
- Another tidbit about salt: If you cut back on the salt, in a few weeks you'll be able to better taste the natural salts in food. If you grew up salting your food, it won’t taste as good to you at first to skip the salt. However, taste buds do change, and you’ll soon adjust to less salt in your diet, and feel better too. Making changes could help you cut down your need to use a salt shaker on already prepared food or you might notice less of a craving for junky, salty foods.
Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Don't smoke. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease.
Have your cholesterol checked. Your health care provider should test your cholesterol levels at least once every 5 years.
Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so be sure to have it checked on a regular basis.
Manage your diabetes. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels closely and follow the diet and/or medication advice provided from your doctor and dietitian.
Valentine's Day coincidentally also falls during the American Heart Month. A day where millions of Americans will see heart-shaped imagery (décor, cards, gifts, etc) throughout the day. Use this imagery to remind you to focus on making heart healthy choices. Whether you celebrate Valentine's Day on your own or with someone else, take steps to be a healthy valentine. Challenge yourself to be active and healthy.
This Valentine's Day instead of buying your valentine a box of chocolates, I recommend the following version of heart healthy brownies. We celebrated American Heart Month and Valentine's Day with these brownies at Fusz today, but if you missed it, feel free to try making them on your own! The recipe makes a delicious low-fat, high fiber, and naturally gluten-free fudgy brownie. The low-fat and high fiber content helps prevent high cholesterol and regulates blood sugar levels. The black beans provide the brownies with fiber, while the olive oil and avocado are sources of monounsaturated (healthy) fat which helps lower cholesterol levels. Therefore, enjoy these heart healthy brownies with your valentine, friends, coworkers, and/or family and do not feel guilty while doing so....you are being heart healthy!
Black Bean Avocado Brownies
- 1 (15 oz) can of black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 large egg
- 2 large egg whites
- 1/2 of a large extra ripe avocado
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2/3 cup unsweetened, good quality cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup brown sugar OR 1/4 cup of the Splenda brown sugar blend
- 1/3 cup chocolate chips of choice, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 8×8 inch baking pan.
- Place all ingredients besides chocolate chips into a blender or food processor. Process or puree until ingredients form a smooth batter. If the batter is too thick and won’t process, then add in a teaspoon or two of water. Be careful to not add too much water because the batter needs to be very thick in order to produce fudgy brownies. Add in 1/3 cup chocolate chips and fold into batter.
- Pour batter into prepared pan, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of remaining chocolate chips. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out somewhat clean and top of the brownies begin to crack.
- Cool pan completely on wire rack then cut into 12 delicious squares.
Nutrition Per Serving: