by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
February is designated American Heart Month and what better way to start the New Year than with heart-healthy practices. As the Co-op nutritionist I am glad to provide some brief guidelines for Co-op shoppers on heart-healthy eating.
Heart-healthy eating practices is a broad topic but I will try to keep it simple. This subject tends to be ever changing; what to eat versus what not to eat. We know our bodies need some kind of dietary fat for overall health, and some types of fat as well as specific foods are best for heart health! Aside from the topic of fats, one thing for sure is that it is of utmost importance to eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. Keep this in mind as you serve up your plate. Vegetables should cover at least half of it with the remaining portion left for protein and a grain. The more colors you eat daily the better, since then you are getting all the phytonutrients or plant compounds that are not only good for your heart but for your whole body. They have yet to identify all the thousands of special plant compounds in produce, meaning there will be definitely more information about the benefits of these foods, so keep those vegetables coming. As I often tell the young children I work with, eat a rainbow of foods. The same holds true for people of all ages!
Protein is another macronutrient that should be included daily for a heart-healthy diet. When it comes to heart health, choose lean sources (i.e., chicken, turkey, and some cuts of pork) or grass-fed animal products that often have lower amounts of fat in them. Eggs and lowfat dairy products are acceptable too. Last but not least, eat legumes such as lentils and chickpeas several times a week in soups, stews, spreads or dips, etc., rather than always relying on animal sources of protein. Many cultures all over the world use dried beans as a major part of protein in their diet and have less heart disease risk because of it.
Now on to fat! All fats are not created equal.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been a hot topic over the last few years and this group of fats should definitely be included in your diet on a daily basis. They are not only good for the heart but very beneficial for the brain and the body overall. Omega-3 fatty acids come from both plant and animal sources. Wild salmon is the one of the best sources because wild salmon eat a good diet of algae and other plant foods containing omega-3 sources from the rivers and streams where they are caught. If the salmon is farm raised, the salmon should have a similar diet to the wild salmon but this is often hard to determine and can be controversial. Other types of fish that contain good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids are tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring. Plant sources of omega-3s include flaxseeds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. Both sources of omega-3s are very beneficial on a daily basis but the research shows that the
fish sources are utilized better by the body.
Last but not least after you have made changes in your dietary habits, don't forget two other major components in maintaining a healthy heart: exercise and stress reduction. A key factor with exercise is finding something you like to do that is not tortuous or painful and that can be done daily. Our bodies are made to move not to sit, so find an activity—whether it be outside or inside—and do it for 20 to 30 minutes or more daily, but build up slowly if you have been sedentary. I like to start my day with a brisk walk and then I often take another one at some point or do some other kind of activity. Once you get hooked it's hard to miss a day!
Reducing stress is the other important component. Allow time for relaxation in this crazy busy world we live in, whether it be meditating, reading, or some quiet reflective time. Just remember exercise, diet, and stress reduction are all key to keeping your heart healthy!! Eating well is crucial but keeping the body moving and relaxed is essential too!
Happy mindful eating!