Happy Heart Health Month!

Yes, yes it has been a quite a while. Needless to say there has been a bunch of unnecessary hubbub  (quite unavoidable while still being so new to this city) which has kept me away from you all! But I am back and just in time for February which is Heart Health month!

Our heart is one of the most essential organ in our body to maintain our living status. Without its optimal function, we would not be able to supply our bodies with fresh blood, we would not be able to carry on daily activities, nor would we be able to sustain proper breathing!

The amount of daily activity, stress, and the quality of our diet all have major effects on our heart health; and it is vital to pay attention to how you treat your heart each and every day.
Today, I will discuss some heart healthy food staples to add to your diet that will help protect your heart. They biggest key into making your diet “heart healthy” is to choose products that are low in saturated fat. Just think of the word, “saturated fat” in conjunction with your heart…fat saturated within your heart and arteries…..ew. And while we are at is, keep the trans-fat far far away from your mouth.  Pay attention to nutrition labels, there can be hidden sources of trans-fat. They are normally listed as “partially hydrogenated ____oil” (fill in the blank with a variety of oils).
Here are some great additions, if you haven’t already added them to your diet, that will keep your heart strong:

Blueberries: These little berries are loaded with antioxidants, especially anthocyanins ( a powerful antioxidant). Antioxidants are excellent for heart health and maintaining insulin resistance.
Add these berries in to sweeten up any treat. Add it into some heart healthy pancakes (my mom likes to use them in conjunction with Bisquick heart healthy pancake mix – double power!). Toss them in your cereal or yogurt, or even enjoy a past-time favorite PBJ by smashing fresh blueberries in place of commercial jelly.
—> Now if you already have blueberries in your diet, try to add in an even more powerful antioxidant: pomegranate! Yes, the seeds are edible! These little gems can be used to sweeten anything up, or even add a little sweet crunch to your grilled chicken salad – yum!

Oatmeal: Oatmeal and other whole grains are rich in fiber, which has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is a preventable risk factor for heart disease, so be sure to get your daily amount of grains in your diet! This is also a great reason why you should never go on a “no-carb” diet. Our hearts need these whole grains!
Enjoy a hearty bowl of oatmeal at breakfast, or toss some in your yogurt (along with those blueberries) to a heart healthy breakfast. You can also be extra sneaky/crafty by blending whole oats into a powder and use it in place of white flour for more fiber content in your baking, or even use the blended oats as a healthy met breading option! The possibilities of using oats are endless!

Beans: They may have gotten a bad rep for making us toot; however, this is actually a good thing!! Like oatmeal, beans are full of roughage fiber which gets our digestive tract moving! By making our G.I. tract working harder, our heart has to pump a little more to supply the essential amount of blood to keep it moving. With all this movement, we reduce that risk factor yet again of having high cholesterol.
Enjoy a nice low-saturated fat burrito (this means, make it at home, not take out!) or you can even use canalini (sp?) beans in place of some oil in certain baking recipes. My mom did this once in her oatmeal cookies, I couldn’t even tell there were actually beans in it!

Salmon: Chock full of heart healthy omega-3’s, this fish also aids in lowering cholesterol, and it has been shown to help improve your mood and level of anxiety. There are so many ways to enjoy salmon: the traditional baked, broiled, or grilled. You can also have it as a burger, chop it up and toss over a salad, toss it in a skillet and allow for it to fully flake and mix with angel air pasta and veggies, and of course as sushi!

Nuts: Get a little nutty every now and then! Just be sure to choose nuts that are low in saturated fats. Great options are: almonds, pistachios (two of my favs), cashews, and walnuts. Just keep in mind the serving size, as these can run high in calories if you do not watch out. And make sure to either enjoy them raw, or DRY roasted. Enjoy them alone, or add it into that parfait I mentioned earlier (nuts, oats, berries, and yogurt–delish!)

Tomatoes: It’s not just their deep red color that makes them heart healthy, but also the fact that they are high in lycopene. Lycopene has been studied to help aid in disease prevention while working with other vitamins and minerals. Swap out that commercial jar tomato sauce, and toss some sliced tomatoes onto your skillet to simmer with herbs and spices of your choice to create your own sauce. Studies have shown that by cooking tomatoes, you actually increase the effectiveness of the lycopene (however, you do risk the decrease in vitamin-c content…hey, you win some, you lose some.)

Cayenne Pepper: Spice up your meals a little bit with this beast. Spicy peppers containing capsaicin, such as cayenne have an inflamatory effect on the body, as well as decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol. Try a spicy basil thai dish with cayenne pepper flakes, basil, noodles, and stir-fried (light oil!!) veggies — this is actually my go-to dish at just about any thai restaurant. You can also use it to season fish or chicken to spice up your main dish.

Healthy Fats: Avacado & Olive Oil –– in light moderation. Yes these are LOADED with heart healthy monounsaturated fats and very light on the saturated fats; however, keep in mind the serving size. You only need a little bit here and there to grab the heart healthy benefits of these deliciously healthy fats!

Try this heart healthy salad: A bed of spinach, diced tomatoes, a few tiny cubes/ slices of avocado, light drizzle (aim for about 1/2-1TBSP olive oil), light drizzle of balsamic vinegar, grilled chicken, pomegranate seeds, and a few blueberries. If you couldn’t decide what to prepare tomorrow’s lunch, now you have a healthy and tasty option!
While you’re at it, go ahead and enjoy a little dessert with this salad – dark chocolate covered strawberries or dark chocolate covered cherries — freshly made!!! No prepackaged imitations! 😉

Happy Heart Health Awareness Month, I plan to feed you all more important tips on how to help protect your heart, to keep it thumping for many Valentine’s days to come!

Oh and my Mom just called to remind me to wear Red tomorrow for the fight against heart disease in women.
Keep checking back, I will be posting more frequently…and if I don’t keep that promise, I give you permission to yell at me via e-mail. haha.

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