February has been American Heart Month since 1963, and we have long associated matters of the heart with Saint Valentine’s Day. This year, be kind to your heart (and your family’s too) by grocery shopping to your heart’s content! Start adding the power of four to your cart, and your heart will thank you. Since heart disease remains the number one cause of death for Americans, simple changes in the way you eat can go a long way in prevention of heart disease.
Most people know the basics: limit high fat foods, alter cooking methods to eliminate unhealthy fats, avoid trans and saturated fats in processed food by reading labels. Yet, though we know fruits and vegetables, grains, and fish are good for us, why are they? What is it that makes them protective or preventative of heart disease?
Fruits are low in fat and calories, and can be virtually preparation free: just peel a banana, pop some berries in your mouth, or crunch a crispy apple. It is easy to do, and rich in benefits for your heart health. Berries contain beneficial compounds too numerous to list (and too hard to pronounce!), with the main ones classified as antioxidants and flavanoids. Not only can they be heart protective, they also can be cancer preventative as well. Additionally, the soluble fiber component (see fiber below) of many fruits add an additional bang for your produce buck by helping to reduce cholesterol levels, which when raised can aggravate and lead to heart disease.
Vegetables are powerhouses in fighting heart disease as well. Also low in fat and calories, and high in fiber, many are rich in antioxidants and other phytochemicals that are beneficial to your heart and your health overall.
Good examples are dark leafy greens, spinach, kale, broccoli and red peppers. These vegetables (and some fruits as well) are rich in the B vitamins: folate, B6 and B12 have been found to lower homocysteine, a chemical linked to high risk for heart disease.
Oatmeal, barley, brown rice, peas, beans and other whole grains contain soluble fiber that has been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol and LDLs (low density lipoproteins) or “bad” cholesterol. Look for items bearing a heart healthy claim such as Cheerios. Choose whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat over white bread. A simple switch to whole grains, and addition of some other “power” items, with an overall low fat diet can make a big difference in fighting heart disease.
Fish, especially “fatty” fish such as anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna contain omega-3 fatty acids, components that prevent blood clots that may lead to clogged arteries and development of heart disease. Strong evidence also suggests they increase HDLs (high density lipoproteins) more commonly known as the “good” cholesterol, as well as lower total cholesterol levels.
So next time you are shopping for your family, add something new to your cart. Here are a few tips and hints to start adding the power of four to your life.
• Try multigrain pasta blends (such as Barilla Plus) that increase the fiber content and have added omega-3 fatty acids.
• Check your cereal and snack bar labels, and pick ones with three grams of fiber or more per serving.
• Make a vegetable-rich soup on a cold winter night and add beans, barley, quinoa or lentils instead of noodles.
• Add berries to your cereal, smoothies, yogurt or ice cream for a flavor and heart fighting boost.
• Poach, broil or grill your fish with fresh herbs and add vegetables or grilled fruit for a new twist. Try to eat fish twice a week.
Besides diet, remember the power of exercise as well, and it’s important role in prevention of heart disease. Make shopping both an exercise for your body, as well as for your heart by choosing some new items this month.