Written by Nutritionist, FH Community Manager, Annie Nguyen
February is Heart Month! As you already know, it is important to keep our hearts in tip-top shape to prevent heart disease and other diseases. Here are three things you can do today for a healthier heart.
Getting proper nutrition can help keep your heart healthy. What you eat and drink directly affects your heart and other body systems. Lowering salt intake, adding healthy fats, and increasing fiber are a few small changes that can go a long way.
While sodium is an essential mineral, eating too much salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure. To curb that risk, it is recommended by health organizations to limit salt consumption to 2,300 mg which is about 1 teaspoon. At-risk groups including African-Americans, older adults, and individuals with conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease should aim for 1500 mg of sodium which is around two-thirds of a teaspoon. Choose food items that are labeled reduced-sodium or no salt added. Another way to check sodium is to read nutrition labels to see how much sodium is in a serving. A good rule of thumb is that if a food product has more than 300 mg of sodium in one serving then it’s on the high side. If reduced-sodium options are not available, rinse canned goods with water to lessen the amount of sodium. Lower sodium dishes do not mean there is no flavor. Add spices, citrus, or salt-free seasoning blends when cooking to bring out more flavor instead.
Fats have a bad rep, but fats are needed for a healthy eating routine. Healthy fats (unsaturated fats) help increase good cholesterol, HDL, and lower bad cholesterol, LDL. Eating foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and olive oil can increase HDL and improve your cholesterol levels. Limit trans fat and saturated fats like butter, lard, and margarine or fatty cuts of red meat as these types of fat can raise LDL levels. Try swapping whole fat dairy products to low-fat or add proteins like seafood or poultry instead to cut down on saturated fat intake. When preparing foods, try a variety of dry preparation methods such as baking and roasting.
Fiber helps absorb fats during digestion to lower the amount of cholesterol ingested into the body. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are excellent sources of fiber. A couple of great ways to incorporate more fiber are to add chia seeds to your smoothie, fruits to your oatmeal, or hummus to your sandwich. If you are increasing your fiber intake, remember to also drink more water and gradually add more fiber. Need some recipe inspiration? Check out the American Heart Association for heart-healthy recipes!
Just like how exercise helps keep muscles in shape, it also strengthens the heart. Regular exercise helps to support cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and increasing oxygen uptake by the muscles. Aim to get 150 minutes of aerobic exercise (jogging, swimming, or sports) and resistance training two times a week. While you are exercising, make sure you are reaching a moderate to high intensity, keeping that heart rate up.
Chronic stress can be damaging to heart health by increasing the risk for stroke or heart disease. Stress is something that will always be a part of our lives. It is important to take the necessary steps to better manage it. Stress management will not only be beneficial to your heart’s health, but it may boost energy and improve sleep. Try activities like deep breathing exercises and meditation, journaling, or stretching. Find an activity that works for your routine, relaxes your body, and releases stress!
What is one thing you will do today to improve your heart’s health?
Sources: PMID: 20040880, PMID: 32342460, PMCID: PMC7686142