February is American Heart Month, and it’s a great time to reevaluate your diet with an emphasis on adding heart-healthy foods to your meals, especially if they can replace foods that are typically not good choices.
The American Heart Association recommends that foods high in fat, sugar and sodium be limited.
Too much fat in the diet, especially saturated fats found in fried foods, meats and full-fat dairy products, results in more calories consumed.
Saturated fats also have been shown to increase cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease.
Foods with added sugar, such as sugary beverages, candy, desserts and sweet snacks, contain no nutrients; they just contain a lot of empty calories that can lead to extra pounds and increase your risk for obesity and heart disease.
Too much sodium in your diet causes your body to pull water into the bloodstream, raising your blood pressure and damaging your arteries over time.
According to the AHA, a heart-healthy diet should consist of more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other lean proteins such as skinless poultry and low- or non-fat dairy.
If you’re not eating many of these foods every day, it might be time to make some changes.
If you’ve ever gone on a “diet,” you can understand the AHA recommendation that dietary changes be implemented slowly.
Making incremental changes to your daily meals results in a gradual shift that’s more likely to stick with you. It’s important to think of these changes as permanent parts of your lifestyle. After all, if your way of eating has resulted in extra weight or poor cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure numbers, those conditions will return if you return to your old ways.
The AHA provides several resources that can assist you in making dietary changes, including a heart-healthy grocery shopping guide, recipes and tips for meal planning or shopping on a budget. For more information, visit the AHA website’s “Healthy Living” section.
- Sherry DeWalt is the healthy lifestyles coordinator for the CGH Health Foundation in Sterling.