What you need to know: February is Heart Healthy Month

FIT Staff
Feb 12, 2014

You know it. Your doctor has mentioned it. And your family is bugging you to take action. You need to eat better to help protect your heart.  

Research shows that healthful eating can help control high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and excess body weight — all risks for heart disease.

It isn't easy to change the way you eat, so take a deep breath and follow the suggestions below to get started – and don’t try to do them all at once. 

Start with a few changes and add more as you adjust to your new diet. 

Remember also that if you are changing your diet, it will affect your whole family’s diet – in a positive way!

The basics

The following tips can all help improve your heart health. Remember, you don't have to make all these changes at once. Pick a few to start with and add more over time.

Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These items are packed with important vitamins and nutrients but are low in calories, according to the AHA. They also contain fiber, which can help lower your blood cholesterol and make you feel more full, helping you manage your weight.

Think lean. Choose lean meats and poultry without skin. Remove all visible fat before cooking. Grill, bake or broil meats and poultry instead of frying. Also, cut back on fatty, salty, processed meats.

Go fish. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids in fish help protect against heart problems. Good sources include fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon. Eat two servings of fish weekly, advises the AHA.

Trim fat in your dairy. Gradually switch to fat-free, low-fat or reduced-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese.

Curb cholesterol. Along with eating lean meats and low-fat dairy products, limit cholesterol by limiting how many eggs you eat. Use egg substitutes, or just use egg whites—not the yolk—when cooking. If you eat a whole egg, avoid or limit other sources of cholesterol for that day.

Toss the salt shaker. Food that is high in salt boosts your risk for high blood pressure. Refrain from adding it while cooking or at the table. Season foods with herbs or spices instead.

Reduce sugar. Sugary drinks and desserts aren’t nutritious and can put you at risk for weight gain.   Refrain from drinking soda – switch to water or iced tea.

Change your oils. Use fats and oils sparingly when cooking. Choose those lowest in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as canola and olive oils.

Remember to exercise. Along with eating better, exercising regularly will help you manage your weight. Your doctor can help you develop a safe and healthy exercise plan.