While February brings heart candies, romance, and all things love-related to mind, it’s also an important time to focus on heart health. An annual initiative of the American Heart Association (AHA), American Heart Month encourages all Americans to join the battle against heart disease.
Heart disease isn’t just a condition that affects men. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, causing about 1 in 3 deaths per year. While these numbers are strikingly high, the good news is that heart disease often can be prevented through the following healthy behaviors:
- Exercising consistently
- Getting adequate sleep
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Reducing stress levels
- Eating well
If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘I’m still young, I don’t have to worry about this stuff yet,’ think again. Older adults aren’t the only ones affected by heart disease. The best way to avoid heart disease is to start prevention early. Establish habits now that will protect you from health issues later.
Love the heart you have
One of the biggest things you can do to help your heart is to arm your body with nutrient-dense fuel. Eating healthier doesn’t mean sacrificing taste or being forced to give up the foods you love! Simply making health-conscious food swaps in these three areas can produce big results.
- Added sugar
- Saturated fat
Here’s the skinny:
1. Added sugar
Added sugars are put into foods during the prep or processing phase. It can also mean the ones that you add in when cooking—like putting brown sugar in your oatmeal—or the kind that are added to soft drinks, candy, cookies, fruit juice, ice cream, and other commercially-produced products.
The typical American over-consumes added sugars, with many not even realizing how much they are eating. Since added sugars don’t give our bodies any nutrients, these added calories are usually stored as fat and can lead to weight gain.
Your goal: The AHA recommends no more than nine teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar for men, and no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar for women.
Picture what happens when you open the water gauge connected to a hose. As more water pushes through, the more pressure you can feel on the hose. Likewise, when you over-consume sodium, the body pulls water into your bloodstream to help flush the excess sodium out. When this happens, the volume of blood increases within your blood vessels, which causes your blood pressure to increase.
The majority of sodium we eat either comes from convenience foods—like from a restaurant or packaged food items—or from salt we add when cooking or at the table. Sodium is a mineral that is required for some important functions in the body like kidney regulation and normal muscle function, but we only need a small amount.
Your goal: The AHA recommends 1,500 mg of sodium per day. To put that in perspective, one teaspoon of salt is equal to 2,300 mg of sodium.
3. Saturated fats
The big issue with saturated fats is that they raise cholesterol in your body. High cholesterol is linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish, and choosing lean cuts of beef and pork all help reduce your intake of saturated fat.
Your goal: The AHA recommends no more than 5-6% of your total daily calories coming from saturated fat. For example, someone consuming about 1,800 calories per day should have no more than 108 of those coming from saturated fat (about 12 grams).
With all of these recommendations in mind, I’ve selected some of my favorite recipes that make heart healthy cooking (and eating) delicious and easy from morning to night. Have a happy, healthy heart month!View Recipes