This month marks the 50th anniversary of American Heart Month. In honor, here’s the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Simple 7 ways to reduce heart disease risk:

  1. Get Active
  2. Control Cholesterol
  3. Eat Better
  4. Manage Blood Pressure
  5. Lose Weight
  6. Reduce Blood Sugar
  7. Stop Smoking

We often talk about these items on our blog, during our webinars, and in workshops—and with good reason! Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the U.S. and more than 1 in 3 Americans live with some form of heart disease. Plus, we believe that by following this list, you’ll feel better and enjoy a higher quality of life, which is really what we want for all of our plan members!

I may be biased as a dietitian, but I think #3 on the AHA list (Eat Better) is one of the most important items on the list. By eating better, you can have a huge impact on items #2 Control Cholesterol, #4 Manage Blood Pressure, #5 Lose Weight, and #6 Reduce Blood Sugar.

The Montana Meals February Challenge of the Month is to incorporate some or all of the following heart-healthy foods into your diet: oatmeal, citrus fruit, salmon, beans, berries, barley, tomatoes, bananas, sweet potatoes, green tea, apples, walnuts, and almonds. As mentioned in the challenge description, no single food can prevent heart disease, but the list does provide a good place to start if you’re looking to make your diet heart-healthier. I’ve been asked why particular foods made the list. In short, it was somewhat subjective, but it is based on particular nutrients that have shown to be beneficial for heart health.  Here are a few reasons why a food may have made the list:

Soluble fiber: Research has shown soluble fiber to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by binding cholesterol and bile acids in the digestive tract and preventing them from being absorbed into the bloodstream. An intake of at least 10 grams of soluble fiber per day from whole foods is recommended for cholesterol lowering effects. Foods on the February challenge list high in soluble fiber: oatmeal, beans (dried beans, not green beans!), citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, barley, banana, berries, apples.

Heart healthy fat: Saturated fats raise your blood cholesterol more than anything in your diet, so replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats from plants (i.e. canola oil, olive oil, sesame oil, avocados, etc) and fish can have a significant effect on cholesterol levels. February challenge list foods: salmon, walnuts, almonds.

Potassium: Potassium can help maintain a healthy blood pressure and counteract the detrimental effects of a high sodium diet. The recommended sodium intake for most Americans is less than 2300 mg/day; yet the average American consumes between 3500-4000 mg of sodium each day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of potassium, as well as low-fat dairy. February challenge list foods: bananas, berries (especially strawberries).

Antioxidants: Antioxidants are compounds that defend against harmful, highly reactive molecules called free radicals. Free radical damage is a naturally occurring process that is caused by things such as aging, metabolism, immune function, and even exercise. Several antioxidants, such as lycopene and catechins, have been linked to decreased risk of heart disease. February challenge list foods: apples, tomatoes, berries, green tea.

Unrefined grains: Current research is focusing less on dietary fat intake and more on chronic inflammation as a primary contributor to heart disease. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, soda, and sweets can contribute to excess weight and inflammation in the body. Try to stick to whole grains and whole fruit as your primary carbohydrate choices. February challenge list foods: oatmeal, barley.

As you incorporate these heart-healthy foods and nutrients into your diet, remember that small changes, choices, and substitutions in our diets can add up to big changes in our health!

Happy Eating!


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