February is heart month. According to Statistics Canada Heart disease is the second cause of death in Canada. Did you know that 80% of heart disease can be prevented by making simple healthy life style changes. You probably have a good idea of what healthy lifestyle changes I am talking about. Right? You know to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reduce your saturated fat intake, eat less salt, sugar, and processed foods. Healthy eating and exercise play an important role preventing heart disease. What better time to talk about heart health and how making small changes can have a positive impact on your health during heart month. The result is that you’ll feel amazing. Let’s take a look at 5 tips to keep your heart healthy.
1). Eat more Vegetables (and Fruit):
Vegetables made the list because most of us don’t eat enough and when it comes to diet and your heart health they play a big role. When I say eat more vegetables and fruit, you should be eating more vegetables than fruit (pretty sure most dietitian’s would agree). Vegetables and fruit help achieve and maintain a healthy weight because they are low in calories, fat and high in fibre to keep you full. Vegetables and fruit are also high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which play an important anti- inflammatory role. Chronic inflammation increases your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease.
A good rule of thumb is to fill half your plate with vegetables and choose lots of color, think of a rainbow when your grocery shopping. A great way to increase your vegetable intake is to participate in movements like “meatless Monday’s” not only are you taking better care of your heart but the environment too. Our family loves this roasted beet quinoa and carrot salad and these vegan lentil sloppy joes.
2). Eat Real Food:
Processed and fast foods are full of salt, sugar, fats, and artificial ingredients that raise blood sugars, cause weight gain and inflammation. These factors increase your risk of heart disease. Instead of choosing unhealthy convenience foods cook your own food as often as possible. This way you control the ingredients and you know what’s in your food. A good tip is to meal plan and do your meal prep once a week…. honestly it’s that easy. Know what’s in your food and choose nutrient dense foods like vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, healthy fats more often. Remember healthy eating should be easy and taste delicious.
3). Eat more Soluble Fibre:
When I am say eat more fibre I don’t mean substituting whole wheat bread for white. Reach for the super grains like real old fashion oats, barley, quinoa, wheat berries, lentils, legumes and fruits like apples and oranges. Fibre acts like a gel by binding to cholesterol and preventing reabsorption in the blood stream. Start your day of with a bowl of fibre rich oats such as this apple and pear baked oats. No, I am not talking about those instant flavoured oatmeal packs. If you are looking for some new breakfast grains check our Friache Nutrition.
4). Choose heart healthy fats
Choose heart healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, walnut or flax seed oil. These oils are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils which have many heart health benefits such as reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good cholesterol). Furthermore, monounsaturated oils have anti-inflammatory properties.
Choose fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel twice a week. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, meaning our bodies do not make them and we have get them from food and/or supplements. Fatty fish are high in both docsahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) omega -3 fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties. If you don’t like fish or are vegetarian talk to your health care provider about an omega – 3 fatty acid supplement. Plant sources of omega – 3 fatty acids include walnuts, flax and hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Please note that plant sources of omega- fatty acids is in the alpha-linolenic (ALA) and our bodies are not efficient at converting them to DHA and EPA. In addition to anti-inflammatory properties omega-3 fatty acids help lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure.
5). Be Mindful:
When is the last time you ate a family dinner with no distractions? Do you stop eating when your full? Have you sat in front of the tv and eaten that whole bag of chips? Have you heard of mindful eating? Mindful eating is simply awareness. Learn to listen to your cues why and what you ate. Did you feel good after eating those chips or did you feel bloated and guilty. Put away your cell phone and pay attention to your hunger cues and what your body is telling you about that food you just ate. For more information on mindful eating I encourage you to check out a fellow dietitian, Desiree Nielsen, who did a series on mindfulness.
Exercise plays an important role in your health. Physical activity helps us achieve and maintain a healthy weight, improves metabolism, strengthens bones, improve immune system and mood. People who are physically active on a regular basis usually are more health conscious about their diets. Don’t let the winter weather scare you away from exercise and for tips on how to stay active in the winter months.
Happy Heart Month!