The sudden influx of heart-shaped decorations, balloons, cards and candy has hopefully served as a reminder to ask yourself what you’re doing to improve your heart health. February is American Heart Month, so put down the heart-shaped chocolates and instead do something really special for your loved ones: Try three simple swaps to promote a healthy heart.
- Meatless Monday: Adopting a more plant-based diet will help reduce saturated fat and cholesterol intake while increasing fiber. These important heart-healthy goals can help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. Try going meat-free one day of the week: Swap beans, lentils, nuts, tofu or tempeh for your usual meat, chicken or fish. Visit these websites for recipe ideas.
- Skip the salt: Less sodium means lower blood pressure; this reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Love snacking on high-sodium foods such as chips, pretzels and microwave popcorn? Look for low-sodium or no-salt-added versions, such as unsalted whole-grain tortilla chips or air-popped popcorn.
- Better yet, snack on fresh fruits and veggies. I love pairing vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers and sugar snap peas with a fiber- and protein-rich dip like this hummus recipe.
- Check out this infographic for more tips on salty foods to swap out of your diet.
- A whole lot of whole grains: Making the switch to whole grains helps lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin levels. Studies show people who eat more whole grains are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
- Like cereal in the morning? Switch to oatmeal instead of Cream of Wheat, or look for the words “whole grain” in your cereal’s ingredient list.
- At lunch, ask for your sandwich on whole-wheat bread, or opt for brown rice in your stir-fry.
- For dinner, switch to whole-wheat pasta on spaghetti night, or get creative and try quinoa, barley or wild rice for a side dish.
Show your love this month by committing to these three simple swaps. Every small change you make to reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats, sodium, refined grains and sugar adds up to improved heart health. Your loved ones will thank you!
Tracy works with the OHSU Surgical Weight Reduction clinic and Cardiac Rehab program, and also provides medical nutrition therapy for General Adult Outpatient Clinics at OHSU.