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  • Stephanie Metzger, RHN

Make your Heart Happy and Healthy!

February is Heart Health Month!

Nutrition and Lifestyle Tips For A Healthy Heart!

Start making some healthy changes today that can improve your heart health and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Choose wholesome foods that promote a healthy heart and start to reduce or eliminate the foods that may increase your risk.

Heart Healthy Foods:

  1. Nuts and Seeds contain healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients that will help keep your heart healthy and happy. Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds and even hemp hearts are a great addition to your daily diet.

  2. Fruit is loaded with fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients that are beneficial for heart health. Choose fresh, whole fruits or frozen fruits and aim for 2-3 servings a day. Apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cantaloupe, citrus, papaya, peaches and kiwi are all great options!

  3. Vegetables are a fibre rich and nutrient dense food that you should be consuming each day. They are loaded with phytonutrients and other vitamins and minerals that are great for your health. Eat the colour of the rainbow! Fill up on dark greens such as kale, spinach, arugula, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and collard greens as well as bright yellow, red and orange coloured vegetables such as tomato, peppers, squash, sweet potato and carrots.

  4. Whole Grain foods such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, rye, buckwheat, barley, millet and other whole grains contain complex carbs, fibre and other vitamins and minerals that are great for your overall cardiovascular health.

  5. Beans and Legumes are rich in fibre and B vitamins and are a great source of protein. Foods such as chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, navy beans, lentils and peas are a great addition to the diet and will benefit your heart.

  6. Healthy Unsaturated Fats work to lower your LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), reduce blood pressure, control blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and improve your overall health. There are two types of unsaturated fats that you should be including in your diet:

  7. Monounsaturated Fats are found in foods like avocado, olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, nuts and seeds such as almonds, peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans and pistachios as well as some natural nut butters.

  8. Polyunsaturated Fats include omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids, which you need to obtain from your diet. You can get these healthy fats from foods such as walnuts, sunflower seeds, flax seed, chia seeds, fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, trout, anchovies) and some plant based oils such as safflower oil, canola oil and soybean oil.

  9. Garlic has been shown to help reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Spice up your meals with garlic and help your heart at the same time!

  10. Dark Chocolate contains flavonoids, which can help with blood pressure and inflammation. Choose chocolate that has 70% cocoa content or higher and enjoy a square or two.

  11. Fibre in your diet will help to keep your cholesterol and blood sugars in check and it will also help with digestion. Include lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains.

Foods To Limit/Eliminate:

  1. Trans Fats raise LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and can increase your risk of heart disease. Avoid foods that contain “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list and check the nutrient facts table for trans fats. Foods such as crackers, baked goods, packaged snack foods, fast foods, fried foods, vegetable shortenings and some margarine contain trans fats.

  2. Saturated Fats tend to increase LDL (bad cholesterol) in the blood, which can lead to plaque formation on the arteries. Saturated fats can be found in animal products such as fatty cuts of meat, butter, mayo and full fat dairy products. You need a little saturated fat in your diet, just be mindful of how much you’re consuming.

  3. Processed/Cured Meats are preserved using salts, nitrites and other preservatives. Reduce your intake of fried or breaded meats, bacon, hot dogs, sausages, deli meats/cold cuts and fatty marbled meats.

  4. Highly Refined/Processed Grains and Carbohydrates s such as white bread, white rice, low fibre cereals, sweets and sugars can increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. These foods are stripped of fibre and nutrients. Choose whole grains and complex carbohydrates.

  5. Baked Goods although delicious are full of sugar and saturated/trans fats. There are some healthy baked goods recipes that would be better for your heart. Make good choices!

  6. Fast Foods and Fried Foods contain saturated and trans fats and are also usually high in sodium. Do your best to choose wholesome foods each day.

  7. Added Sugars in food has been linked to elevated blood triglyceride levels, which can increase your risk of heart disease. Read the ingredient list when buying packaged products and look for things like sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, honey, molasses, malt or maple syrup, cane juice, can syrup, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup and anything ending in “ose”. Naturally occurring sugar is ok (sugars found naturally in fruit and dairy).

  8. Soft Drinks and other Sugary Drinks are loaded with added sugars.

  9. Excess Sodium in the diet can increase blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Read food labels and choose products that are low sodium, reduced sodium or free of sodium. Also, watch how much salt you’re adding to your food for flavour.

Other Tips:

  • Get some physical activity in every day. Exercise will help to strengthen your heart, keep your weight in check and promote a healthy heart.

  • Read food labels when buying packaged foods. Look for low sodium, low or no trans/saturated fats and no added sugars in the ingredient list.

  • Follow a heart healthy diet as mentioned above.

  • Reduce stress levels and learn how to manage them.

  • Drink lots of water

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.

  • Quit Smoking

  • Maintain healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

  • Manage diabetes and keep your sugar levels in check.

  • Sleep better!

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