Heart healthy lifestyle tips for American Heart Month

In addition to containing Valentine’s Day, the most heart-centric holiday, February also marks American Heart Month, which exists to raise awareness about the importance of having a healthy heart for one’s overall well-being.

One way to improve your heart health this month is to eat healthy.

Denise Reiners, a dietitian at Cambridge Medical Center, supplied some tips for those wondering what dietary changes they can make this month to improve or maintain their heart’s health.

Reiners cited three dietary resources as helpful for understanding heart conscious eating. She recommends looking into the research-backed DASH Diet plan, which is high in fruits and vegetables, as well as the American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines.

Adopting a heart-healthy diet has benefits for not only the heart but other aspects of a person’s well-being as well.

“If you’re following a heart-healthy diet, then typically you would be able to achieve and maintain a healthier weight,” Reiners said.

A heart healthy diet can also lower a person’s likelihood of cancer.

If you’re looking for a diet that will keep your heart at peak performance, then what you need basically boils down to “vegetables, fruits, whole grains, a plant-based diet,” Reiners said.

Springing for foods that contain mono- and poly-unsaturated fats instead of saturated or trans fats is another good way to keep your diet heart friendly, Reiners said.

Unsaturated fats are normally liquid, and they typically come from plants. Olive oil or vegetable oil are examples. Saturated fats are generally animal fats, and they are typically solid at room temperature, Reiners explained. Trans fats are fats that have altered; they may have originated as a liquid, plant-based oil, but adding hydrogen to them makes them solid.

Not all plant-derived oils are created equal, however, and Reiners suggests people should do their research when it comes to trendy cooking ingredients.

“A lot of people are into coconut oil right now,” she said, “but that actually has a lot of saturated fats.”
Reiners said that eating fiber is also important for a person’s heart health.

“Getting enough fiber in your diet – like 25 to 35 grams in your diet would be recommended per day.”

Other elements of a healthy diet Reiners recommends are avoiding sodium, added sugars, sugar-sweetened beverages, heavily processed meats and some red meats. She suggests paying attention to nutrition labels when buying food as well.

Regular exercise is also an important component of heart health. Reiners suggested 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise per week, like walking, or 1 1/2 hours of vigorous exercise, like running, or an equivalent combination of both types.

For more information on American Heart Month and heart health, Reiners recommends the following websites: allinahealth.org, heart.org and the USDA Dietary Guidelines at health.gov. Information on the DASH Diet can be found at dashdiet.org.