Show Your Heart Some Love this Month
February 26, 2015
by guest nutritionist Marie A. Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women in the United States. However, you can take steps each day to support heart health by eating a nutritious diet and leading a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity. And, this February, during National Heart Health Month, why not show your heart some love by making a few dietary changes that may make a huge difference.
Plant Purple Produce in Your Diet
Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and healthy plant-based compounds. And therefore, the American Heart Association suggests eating many different colors of fruits and vegetables each day to benefit from the wide array of nutrients found in produce. There are plenty of tasty options in each group, however, you may want to pay particular attention to blue/purple foods. The average person eats just three percent of their produce from this group, yet there’s power behind that purple color.
Purple plant-based nutrients called polyphenols help protect plants against pathogens, parasites and predators, and they also protect your body. The darker the color the more polyphenols the fruit or vegetable contains. For instance, berry polyphenols, like those found in dark purple Concord grapes, promote health, including heart health. In fact, nearly 20 years of research suggests that 100 percent grape juice made with Concord grapes helps support a healthy heart including blood vessel functioning and circulation.
Pack more purple into each day by trying a few of these ideas:
- Make a smoothie with 100 percent grape juice made with Concord grapes.
- Dice purple cabbage and purple onion (or any onions if you can’t find purple at your local grocery store), and sauté your mixture in extra virgin olive oil.
- Try purple sticky rice – add sautéed garlic and onions for a tasty side dish.
- Swap noodles in favor of eggplant Parmesan or dice eggplant and add it to a variety of soups and stews.
- Add a little sliced plum goodness to your morning yogurt or cereal.
- Enjoy the delicious goodness of more than 40 Concord grapes, which are pressed, skins, seeds and all, to deliver polyphenols straight from the grape into each eight ounce glass of Welch’s 100 percent grape juice.
There’s something special about oily fish including salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, lake trout, sardines and anchovies. Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, oily fish help support healthy triglyceride levels and blood pressure and may help lower your risk of death from coronary heart disease. Keep these tips in mind when you go fishing for heart health:
- Choose fish that is responsibly farmed, high in omega-3s and low in mercury and other environmental contaminants. Three top picks: wild-caught Pacific sardines, wild-caught Alaskan salmon – fresh or canned, and Atlantic Mackerel.
- Forgo frying and opt for sautéed, baked or grilled fish. Add herbs and spices prior to cooking for more flavor and fewer harmful compounds that may be produced while your fish cooks.
- Talk to your physician about fish oil supplements if you don’t eat fish.
Steer Clear of SoFAS
By SoFAS I’m not talking about the couches in your living room, though you shouldn’t spend too much time on that either, but instead solid fats and added sugars. Solid fats are those that are solid at room temperature like shortening, butter, marbled meat and partially hydrogenated oils, a manmade fat found in some baked goods and other processed foods. These fats raise blood cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease. Cut down on how often you eat these fats and replace solid fats with liquid oils such as corn, sesame or extra virgin olive oil.
A few dietary changes can make a big difference by providing more vitamins, minerals, better-for-you fats and healthy plant-based compounds that support heart health. Show your heart a little love this month by eating a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables including those that are dark purple in color, opting for omega-3 rich fish and cooking with liquid oils instead of solid fats.
Marie A. Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, is a member of Welch’s Health and Nutrition Advisory Panel. She is a food and nutrition journalist, spokesperson and frequent guest on national and regional TV stations. In addition, she has authored hundreds of magazine and trade publication articles, written book chapters, and is co-editor of the NSCA’s Guide to Exercise and Sport Nutrition (Human Kinetics Publishers). Spano is also the sports dietitian for the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Braves – Minor Leagues and Blackzilians (a professional mixed martial arts team).