The month of February usually has us focused on candy and chocolate hearts (friendly reminder: Valentine’s Day is just around the corner!), but did you know that’s it’s also American Heart Month? That’s right, 28 days dedicated to a happy and healthy heart. Registered dietitian, Carrie Walder, is here with a bunch of tips and a recipe to keep things pumping in the right direction.
As a dietitian, I’ve seen how food plays a major role in both managing and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. So in honor of Heart Month, I’ve teamed up with Fabletics to share which foods, nutrients, and lifestyle habits that are good for the heart, along with a recipe to show you how to translate these principles into real food.
Increase Fiber Intake
Fiber, particularly the soluble kind, can interfere with the absorption of various substances in our body, including LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. In fact, a recent study found that individuals who consumed the highest amounts of dietary fiber reduced their risk of heart disease and stroke by up to 24%.
Put this into practice: Fiber is found exclusively in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Women should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, barley, psyllium, and legumes.
Choose Unsaturated Fatty Acids & Omega-3s
Eating healthy sources of unsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3s, is beneficial for heart health. These types of fats reduce inflammation, the risk of blood clots, and help to lower the ratio of Total Cholesterol to HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) in our blood.
Put this into practice: Add more heart-healthy fats to your diet, such as nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon or mackerel. Walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and fatty fish are particularly good sources of omega-3s.
Limit Excess Sodium & Sugar
Too much sodium (salt) can cause us to hold onto excess fluid, elevating the pressure on our delicate blood vessels. Like sodium, too much sugar can increase the risk for heart disease, by increasing blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and inflammation.
Put this into practice: The majority of our sodium intake comes from processed foods, not the salt shaker. Focus on choosing whole foods, which are naturally lower in sodium and sugar. Cut back on sugar by limiting sodas, fruit juices, refined carbohydrates, and concentrated sweets. PS – Fruit contains sugar, but it also contains valuable micronutrients and fiber, so it shouldn’t be lumped into the same category!
Ultimately, what matters most is our OVERALL dietary patterns and lifestyle. Yes, you can still eat bacon and dessert, but you should focus on whole foods MOST of the time. Consuming high-fiber plants and heart-healthy fats, plus some regular exercise and maintaining low-stress levels are some of the best way to ensure a healthy heart!
Heart-Healthy Recipe: Blackberry Cinnamon Chia Seed Oatmeal
One of my go-to oatmeal recipes, this breakfast option is packed with heart-healthy fiber, unsaturated fats (from the nuts + nut butter), omega-3s (from the chia seeds), and antioxidants (from the berries). This bowl contains about 17g of fiber—3g from the oats, 5g from the chia seeds, 8g from the berries, and 1g from the nut butter. That’s over half of your daily fiber needs!
The balance of complex carbohydrates, fiber, fat, and protein will help keep your blood sugar levels stable, give you sustained energy and fullness throughout the morning, while also keeping your heart happy.
Ingredients: Serves 1
- ½ cup rolled oats
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 cup frozen berries (raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries)
- 1 cup water (using boiled water speeds things up even more!)
- 1 tbsp nut butter (one without added sugar, salt, or oils)
- 1 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
- Optional: sprinkle of 3-4 nuts, cacao nibs, pepitas, dried mulberries, et Sweetened with a touch (~1 tsp) of maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, or honey if needed
- Add oats, chia seeds, ground cinnamon, and frozen berries to a small saucepan. Stir to mix ingredients, then add water.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly. Feel free to adjust water as desired to make a thicker or thinner consistency.
- Cook for about 5 mins until water is absorbed. Place cooked oatmeal into a bowl.
- Add plain Greek yogurt and nut butter. Stir well to make oatmeal extra creamy. Add other toppings as desired, and enjoy hot!
Additional recipes here: http://www.walderwellness.com/