American Heart Month: foods, drinks, and activities for a healthier heart
Did you know that February is American Heart Month? According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. All told, more than 600,000 Americans die of heart disease every year.
But the news is not all doom and gloom when it comes to matters of the heart. There are many simple and effective things you can do to help prevent heart disease and improve your heart health.
Show Your Heart Some Love
The very basics of achieving and maintaining better heart health start with proper diet and exercise. In this post we’ll look at 37 foods and drinks that can help you avoid the risk of heart disease plus five activities you can do to live a heart-healthy lifestyle.
37 Foods, Drinks, and Activities You Love That Contribute to a Healthy Heart
A heart-healthy diet should maximize the consumption of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, and lean meat and discourage the consumption of refined and processed foods. Foods that are low in sodium and saturated fat are also key to heart disease prevention.
The great news for GOLO members – our program is filled with these foods. So if you are following the GOLO for Life plan, you are probably already on the right track but keep reading to learn more about how to keep that heart of yours healthy and happy!
- Collard Greens
- Bok Choy
- Bell Peppers
Leafy green veggies are high in dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. But your intake of vegetables shouldn’t stop with the green ones. Vegetables come in all shapes and sizes, and no matter what color, they all pack a nutritious punch.
Fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that can help improve your heart health. Berries are specifically good for your heart because of their high levels of antioxidants, which prevent or slow damage to cells.
Quick tip: Too much added sugar can be one of the greatest threats to cardiovascular disease. If you enjoy a sweet treat after meals, fruit is great for satisfying your craving in a healthy way.
- Brown rice
- Wholegrain bread
- Whole-wheat flour
Wholegrains are foods that include all three parts of the grain: bran, germ, and endosperm. Wholegrain foods are an excellent source of fiber and protein. Replacing refined grains, like white rice, white bread, and processed breakfast cereals, with wholegrains, can help reduce LDL cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease.
Quick Tip: Bread does not off limits when trying to lose weight. As long as you choose the right bread and eat it in the correct serving size along with a complete, balanced meal, bread can be part of your life!
Nuts and Seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Hemp seeds
Nutrient-dense nuts like almonds and walnuts are a quick and easy way to add healthy protein, fats, and fiber to your diet. They can lower your cholesterol and even improve the health of the lining of your arteries. Now that’s a food we love that loves you back.
Seeds have a similar health benefit because of their high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation and blood pressure.
Quick tip: Did you know that vegetarian diets are consistently beneficial with respect to cardiovascular disease? That doesn’t mean you have to completely remove meat from your diet though. Even reducing your consumption by adding a few meat-free meals a week can help!
- Canned, light tuna
Fish is an excellent source of unsaturated fat, known as omega-3 fatty acids. Eating fish can help reduce inflammation in the body, which can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease.
If you don’t like the taste of fish, you can still reap the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids by taking a fish oil supplement.
Full of potassium and monounsaturated fats, adding avocados in your diet can help reduce cholesterol and decrease blood pressure.
Looking for a quick and healthy snack to enjoy during American Heart Month? Try Meal 2 on our No Cook Meal post: Avocado Toast and Cottage Cheese.
Edamame is a low-calorie, nutrient-packed source of soy protein, which may reduce cholesterol levels. Including edamame in your diet can also help lower the risk of heart disease because it’s rich in fiber and antioxidants.
Quick Tip: Anytime you buy a soy product, it is best to look for an organic option.
Beans and Legumes
Remember that song about beans you learned as a kid? It went something like: “Beans, beans, are good for your heart, the more you eat the more you may help improve your blood cholesterol because they’re high in minerals and fiber.” We may be misremembering the lyrics, but what’s important is that they’re true. Beans (and legumes) are a terrific source of minerals and fiber, which help lower cholesterol.
Good news for chocolate lovers, the consumption of cocoa, particularly rich in flavanols, is beneficial to promote cardiovascular health. The antioxidative and anti-inflammatory abilities of dark chocolate make this sweet treat one you can eat in moderation without feeling guilty.
Just make sure you buy a dark chocolate that is at least 70% or higher. (Milk chocolate is more processed and not a healthy option.)
Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats as well as bioactive polyphenols. Biological activity of polyphenols can help reduce morbidity and/or slow down the development of cardiovascular diseases as well as cancer.
An easy way to add olive oil to your diet during American Heart Month is to cook with it. Olive oil is widely used in salads, marinades, and can be used instead of butter as a healthy dip for bread.
Heart Healthy Drinks
Pomegranates are a rich source of a variety of phytochemicals, which are responsible for their strong antioxidative and anti-inflammatory potential. Drinking pomegranate juice has been found to help with blood circulation and prevents plaque from building up in your arteries.
Pomegranates are only in season from October through January. But with pomegranate juice, you can reap the benefits year-round.
One of the most widely consumed beverages worldwide is also one of the most beneficial for heart health.
Consumption of caffeinated coffee may reduce signs of blocked arteries. Coffee is also linked to a lower risk of heart failure, stroke, and coronary heart disease. There is also evidence that decaffeinated coffee may, in some respect, have similar benefits as regular coffee.
Of course, adding sugar and creamers to coffee may mitigate the healthy benefits of drinking a cup of jo so keep it black if possible to reap the most benefits!
Black and green tea have moderate amounts of caffeine compared to coffee, but still offer similar benefits. Whether you prefer your tea hot or cold, the flavonoids found in tea can help reduce inflammation, which may reduce plaque buildup in arteries.
Pairing a glass of wine with lunch or dinner is a great way to enhance a meal. If you’re someone who enjoys a glass of wine now and then, you’ll be happy to learn that moderate red wine consumption has been linked to reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.
Both merlot and cabernet are considered the healthiest wines for heart health because of their higher levels of resveratrol. Resveratrol is effective in the prevention of coronary heart disease because of its antioxidant properties.
Although GOLO recommends limiting alcohol for the best results during your weight loss journey, an occasional glass of red wine won’t derail your progress, just make sure to get in some exercise on a day that you are planning to have a drink.
5 Activities to Improve Your Heart Health
For a lot of people, exercising means building or toning muscle. But whether you’re pumping iron or doing lighter exercises to pump your blood, you’re always working out the most important muscle in the body: your heart!
Here are some activities to increase your heart rate during American Heart Month.
Aerobic Exercise: Whether it’s a ten minute walk a few times a week or a strenuous bike ride, aerobic exercise helps to improve circulation and lower blood pressure. Any excuse to get off the couch and get outside is a good one.
Move It and Lose It: Being active doesn’t just refer to exercising. Cleaning the house, playing with your kids, or doing yard work can improve your home life as well as your health. Anything you can do to move more will increase your heart rate and could help you lose weight in the process.
Yoga: Yoga does your body good, but it’s also great for your mental health. It can also calm your mind, cut stress, and help you relax.
Sneak in More Steps: Doctors recommend getting 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week. But that doesn’t have to happen all at once. Bypass the elevator and take the stairs, park further away from a store, talk a walk during lunch. These are all easy ways to sneak in more steps throughout the day.
Sleep 7-8 Hours a Night: Even the healthiest of hearts needs to get a proper amount of rest. Short sleep duration and poor sleep quality are associated with the risk of coronary heart disease. Sleep is a great way to lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
Good sleep can also help with weight loss. Researchers found that dieters who reduced their sleep during a 14-day period, lost 55% less fat while eating the same amount of calories!
Why We Love American Heart Month
Eating more heart-healthy foods and finding ways to be more active don’t have to happen overnight. By including a few of these foods to your diet and creating a weekly exercise plan, you can start living a heart-healthy lifestyle without skipping a beat.
This article was written by the GOLO team with facts supported by the following sources:
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