The month of February is often associated with the glamorization of Valentine’s Day, adorned with pink and red hearts as couples celebrate their love for one another. But it’s about more than just cutout shapes and fluttering hearts — February is also American Heart Month.
Heart disease, the nation’s leading cause of death, kills about 610,000 Americans annually — that’s one in every four deaths, according to the CDC. Tracing back a few steps, more than 67 million Americans have high blood pressure, which is the leading cause in both stroke and heart disease, the leading cause of death in America.
So, this February, instead of just telling someone how much you care about them, consider showing how much you care informing them of simple steps they can take including balancing a healthy diet. Here are a few heart-healthy foods to incorporate into your diet, broken down by meal:
In the morning, try ditching your sugary cereal or protein shake packed with who knows what and opt for a warm bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and a cup of coffee. If you pick old-fashioned or even quick-cook oatmeal (not the sugary, flavored, and instant packs) you can help lower your cholesterol as oatmeal acts as an absorbing sponge in your digestive tract. Consider topping off your oatmeal with blueberries or other berries high in antioxidant levels as they help decrease blood pressure. And you can still keep your morning cup of coffee! Although studies are mixed, recent data has shown that drinking a cup or two a day can help reduce your chance of stroke and cardiovascular disease by nearly 30 percent.
For lunch, try a hearty salad over California Pizza Kitchen or Panda Express. Being high in fiber, carotenoids, vitamins, minerals and even omega-3 fatty acids, you can’t go wrong with kale, broccoli or spinach. To add some depth and flavor, toss in tomatoes and avocado and coat with olive oil. Both avocado and extra virgin olive oil are high in good fats which can reduce the risk of getting heart disease and tomatoes help rid the body of cholesterol and help keep veins open. For a snack, consider munching on some nuts or citrus fruit to pack yourself rich of Vitamin C and good fats that also help in prevention.
For dinner, consider the often claimed “all-star” for heart healthy food: salmon. Aside from the fatty acids, salmon has properties that help lower the risk of arrhythmias, atherosclerosis, and decrease triglycerides. Pair your salmon with salad or broccoli if you did not earlier, or try a type of legume (beans, lentils, etc), and potatoes. Beans can help control sugar levels in people with diabetes which is crucial in preventing a serious complication such as heart disease. And potatoes are rich in potassium which helps with blood pressure and high in fiber which also reduces risk of disease.
As for dessert?
Indulge in a bite or two of dark chocolate, meaning at least 60 to 70 percent cocoa. The flavonoids in dark chocolate can help reduce clotting, inflammation and can help improve blood pressure. In the evening, feel free to have a few sips of red wine or green tea. Both can aid in a happy mind and a happy heart.