February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is the No.1 cause of death for U.S. men and women. Many people share the misperception that heart disease is only a concern for older adults who are inactive and overweight, but we all benefit from positive changes to our diets to improve heart health.
Eat seafood at least twice a week. Cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines are high in the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, raise HDL (good) cholesterol, lower triglycerides and lower blood pressure. A 3 ounce serving is about the size of a checkbook and you can often find it on sale.
Flaxseed contains omega-3 fatty acids called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body can convert to EPA and DHA. Although ALA is less active than EPA and DHA, 2-4 tablespoons of flaxseed daily has been found to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Nuts are high in protein and fiber, and they contain monounsaturated fats, which can help reduce your LDL cholesterol. Walnuts are another source of ALA often recommended in a heart-healthy diet. Nuts are high in calories so eat only one ounce per day, or one-quarter cup.
Legumes include beans, peas and lentils. They also are good sources of protein and fiber, with less fat than nuts. They provide many antioxidants that protect your heart and blood vessels. A serving is one-half cup.
Oats are recommended since they help reduce total and LDL cholesterol.
Changing your eating habits may seem overwhelming, but I promise you’ll do well by just taking one step at a time. This week, add fish to your menu. Next week, try legumes at 2 or 3 meals. Each week change something new, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy heart.
As seen in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND
is a nutrition educator with over 20 years experience as a college professor, nutrition coach, presenter and writer, as well as a nutrition consultant and founding director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.