Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Heart Healthy Month is an opportunity to take some small steps to create new habits that you can follow to improve your health and reduce your risk for heart attack, stroke or type 2 diabetes. Good eating habits, along with 60 minutes of physical activity a day, will help you feel and look better. Eating healthy is important every day, 365 days a year. Remember, every day is a new opportunity to improve your heart health.
Research tells us we all develop food preferences over time. Reduce the amount of salt you ingest by choosing processed foods with less sodium along with cutting back on your use in cooking and at the table and eventually you will like foods with less salt. This one small step could add years to your life.
Below are some heart healthy tips to try this month and throughout the year:
- Slow Down on the Sodium - Americans eat more than double the daily amount of sodium recommended by the American Heart Association. Too much sodium increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and other health problems, but this excess isn’t just from salting at the table. Americans get most of their sodium — 77 percent — from processed foods. If you choose these foods, compare the nutrition facts labels and look for lower-sodium versions.
- Eat 2 ½ cups of Fruit and 3-4 cups of Vegetables Daily - Yikes! That sounds like a lot more than most Americans eat daily. Research shows we do not eat enough fruit and vegetables. Make sure you eat one salad a day or raw vegetables for plenty of fiber and then eat some cooked veggies as well. Try vegetable soup or mixed dishes like chili with vegetables as part of the entrée. Add cooked veggies with a typical dinner meal following www.ChooseMyPlate.gov recommendations.
- Choose a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables - Try fresh, frozen, canned, juiced, and dried. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Look for fruits and vegetables of many different colors. Then try a “healthy stir-steam medley” using a small amount of liquid to cook vegetables in a deep frypan or wok. Need a quick, healthy weeknight dinner? Try a salad, such as Spinach or Caesar, with added low-fat, low-sodium dressing. The American Heart Association has tasty recipes packed with such items as tofu, broccoli, mushrooms and lots more.
- Get the Skinny on Fats - Learn how to substitute good fats (mono and polyunsaturated fats) for bad fats (saturated and trans fats). For example, try canola oil or olive oil instead of butter. Choose lean meats, poultry without skin, and fish instead of fattier cuts of meats. Enjoy heart-healthy fats in moderation and remember this tip: 1 teaspoon of any type of fat equals 1 serving. The calories from fats add up quickly!
- Cook at Home - Cooking at home is a great way to make sure the ingredients are healthy and portions are correct. Try using a smaller salad-size plate instead of a big dinner plate for meals and snacks. Remember, knowing what ingredients, seasonings and fats are in the foods you eat, will help you to keep calories in check and heart healthy all year long.