Celebrate American Heart Month by trying some of these heart-healthy foods to stay strong and reduce your chance of heart disease.
This post is provided by the American Cancer Society® (www.cancer.org).
Love is in the air – and not just because Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. It’s National Heart Month – a time to show our hearts a little love, and do what we can to reduce our risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
Fortunately, there are things we can put in our cereal bowls, lunch boxes and dinner plates every day that can help reduce our own risk for developing heart disease.
You’ve probably heard that we should eat more fiber. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber, which helps reduce serum cholesterol levels and is therefore good for your heart; and insoluble fiber, which helps keep a healthy GI tract, which is good for your colon!
Oats, beans, and apples – along with other fruits, vegetables and grains – are great sources of primarily soluble fiber, but contain insoluble fiber, as well. Shoot for 25-30 grams of fiber each day.
Low in calories and bursting with nutrients, fruits and vegetables can help reduce high blood pressure (a risk factor for heart disease) and also may help with weight control – an important way to reduce your risk of both heart disease and cancer.
Shoot for at least 2.5 cups of colorful fruits and vegetables each day, and because we don’t know which of the hundreds of nutrients that are packaged in produce are most protective for our health – eat a variety each day!
Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and yes, even popcorn, are whole grains – foods that are packed with fiber and other nutrients that help regulate blood pressure. This same fiber and other nutrients may also help reduce the risk of colon cancer, and eating whole grains is a key component of the ACS recommendation to eat a mostly plant-based diet.
Shoot for at least half your grain sources during the day to be whole grain.
These fish contain omega-3 fatty acids – a type of fat that may help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and also blood pressure. (Other sources include walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil.) The American Heart Association recommends that we eat fish – particularly these types – at least 2 times per week.
While it doesn’t appear that eating fish high in omega-3s impacts cancer risk, serving fish in place of red meat like beef, pork or lamb is a healthy swap, as red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer.
Not only can these foods add some great texture and flavor to your diet, they also provide heart-healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats, which can help lower your cholesterol. For years, we used to think the type of fat you eat impacted cancer risk, but the research just hasn’t panned out on this.
While these foods may not directly influence cancer risk, they can and should be included as part of an overall healthy diet. One thing to keep in mind – they are high in calories, so you don’t want to go overboard!
Moderate alcohol consumption (no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men) is associated with reduced heart disease risk. Red wine, with its particularly high level of antioxidants, has been linked for years with heart health, although the jury is still out on this (some studies suggest that grape juice may have the same impact). Similarly, some studies suggest that small amounts of high quality dark chocolate (look for those labeled with ‘at least 70% cocoa’) may also offer some heart-healthy benefits due to its high levels of antioxidants.
But, both of these are examples of how too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Even though moderate consumption of red wine may reduce heart disease risk, risk of breast cancer increases at this level. And too much dark chocolate? That’s a lot of extra calories, sugar, and fat. But a 5-oz. glass of cabernet and a small piece of dark chocolate with your Valentine? You decide!
What will you start doing today to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer?
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“Heart Healthy Foods Your Whole Body Will Love,” Cancer.org. Accessed January 13, 2016.