February is American Heart Month which also celebrates the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement. February 5th is National Wear Red Day, read more about how to Go Red this February and how you can get involved. The following statistics are why I work to raise awareness to help save women’s lives from heart disease:
- Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year.
- Heart disease kills more women than men, at an average rate of one death per minute.
- Heart disease kills more women than all kinds of cancer combined.
While there are many risk factors to consider, I am going to share with you 5 foods to help lower your risk of heart disease when incorporated into a healthy diet.
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Research has shown that soluble fiber found in whole grain oats and oat bran can help lower LDL, or the “bad” cholesterol. 3g of soluble fiber in addition to a diet low in saturated fat may reduce the risk of heart disease. One ½ cup serving of old fashioned oats contains 2g of soluble fiber. Dry cereals like “Cheerios” also pack soluble fiber from oats, a 1 cup serving provides 1 gram. Remember when consuming cereals and oatmeal, stick to the basics. Start with plain, unsweetened oats and cereals and add your own fruit or other preferred sweeteners to taste. Pre-sweetened versions can easily contain 3 teaspoons or more of sugar per serving. Looking for ideas? Try some of my recipes featuring oats:
Oatmeal Breakfast Pie
Chocolate Pomegranate Overnight Oats
Maple Pumpkin Banana Overnight Oats
Fruit and Oatmeal Breakfast Parfait
Chocolate Covered Strawberry Overnight Oats
Blueberry Protein Pancakes
Red, White and Blue Overnight Oats
Vegan Raspberry Vanilla Overnight Oats
Peppermint Mocha Overnight Oats
Nuts, particularly almonds, pistachios, peanuts and walnuts provide heart health benefits. In general, nuts are a source of fiber, unsaturated (good) fats, plant sterols (compounds naturally found in certain foods which have a cholesterol lowering effect), Vitamin E, L-arginine (which may help make artery walls more flexible and less “sticky” for blood clots), and omega 3 fats( which I will talk about later). Pistachios are a calorie bargain in the world of nuts. You can snack on 30 for about 100 calories. Watch your portions though; too many nuts can contribute to weight gain. A few added to salad, cereal, yogurt or consumed with a piece of fruit will do.
I cook with nuts to often, it’s hard to choose from my recipes arsenal. Here are a few of my nutty favorites:
Deconstructed Chocolate Dipped Apple
Peanut Butter and Jelly Overnight Oats
PB and J Smoothie Bowl
Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl
Cranberry Orange Ginger Relish
Peanut Butter Raspberry Snack Squares
Roasted Pears with Dried Plums and Pistachios
Fish, most notably salmon, herring, sardines and some others contain omega 3 fatty acids which provide many health benefits. They are thought to reduce inflammation in the body, which can damage arteries and other blood vessels leading to heart disease. Other benefits of omega 3’s are a reduction in blood pressure, triglycerides, and a decrease in clot formation. To help reduce the risk of heart disease, you will want to eat 2 servings per week of fatty fish. There are many concerns about the sustainability of certain fish as well as the antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals used in farmed fish. To learn more about making safer choices, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website to download a Seafood Watch pocket guide based on the region where you live.
Flaxseed is a plant based source of omega 3 fats that I described above, with each Tablespoon of flax containing 1.8 grams. Flax is also a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as lignans, which have antioxidant properties that may provide protection against heart disease. Although MANY products now contain flax, I like to use it on yogurt, cottage cheese, in muffins, pancakes, waffles…the list goes on. Be aware that flax is available in seed and ground (flaxmeal) form. You must grind flax seeds to increase digestibility and absorption. Once ground, the flax is sensitive to light and heat and the delicate fatty acids can become rancid quickly. I recommend keeping ground flax in the refrigerator for maximum protection. Try my Banana Flax Muffin in a Mug for a fun, quick breakfast or snack.
Avocados are a nutrient-dense fruit which contribute nearly 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, per one oz. serving (1/5th of a medium avocado). With their ﬂavor, texture, nutritional value and culinary versatility, avocados can be enjoyed all day from breakfast to lunch to dinner, in snacks and desserts. A new study claims that consuming one avocado a day as part of a moderate-fat diet could help lower bad cholesterol among people who are overweight or obese. So substitute some mashed avocado on your sandwich instead of butter or mayo. Top your morning toast with some avocado or add it to salads and decrease the amount of creamy dressing. There are SO many ways to enjoy avocados. Try this Avocado, Black Bean and Tomato Salad served with tortilla chips or veggies. It’s also a satisfying lunch atop tuna or cottage cheese. Spoon some over an omelet, burger or grilled fish. The possibilities are endless.
I hope you enjoy adding these healthy foods to your diet. Let me know your favorite ways to eat them in the comments below!
To learn even more about “How to eat right for your heart”, listen to this Family Food Experts radio podcast where Ellen Briggs and I interview Sharon Palmer, RDN (The Plant-Powered Dietitian) http://www.blogtalkradio.com/familyfoodexperts/2013/03/16/go-red-moms-eat-right-for-your-heart