Since Valentine’s Day is this Friday and February is American Heart Month, I thought it only appropriate to write about the most important way you can show your heart a little extra love. Heart disease is the number 1 killer of Americans, and many of the risk factors for this disease are diet and lifestyle-related and largely preventable. The American Heart Association urges everyone to follow a Heart Healthy Diet in order to reduce your risk, but what does that mean?
One of the most effective and scientifically proven ways to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure (major risks for heart attack or stroke) is to eat 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. “What? No way!” you’re thinking, right? For most Americans, that’s a pretty lofty goal, and I’ll admit I have days when I’m lucky if I get one glass of orange juice in and that’s it. But it’s a goal that’s worth working on because there are so many benefits.
Back in 2001, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) released the results of a major study on blood pressure. They concluded that individuals in the study who ate a diet which included at least 7-9 servings of fruits and/or vegetables, along with some low fat dairy foods, were able to significantly reduce their blood pressure in about 4 weeks. The diet is known as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), and it gets high marks all around for reducing blood pressure as well as improving cholesterol and – a big BONUS – promoting weight loss. Basically, it’s the prefect Heart Healthy diet.
It works because fruits and vegetables are naturally rich sources of potassium and magnesium, both of which help to reduce blood pressure, and they are low in sodium, which increases blood pressure. In addition, the DASH diet is high in fiber and low in fat, which helps to reduce LDL or the bad cholesterol that can cause plaque to build up in the arteries. It’s pretty easy to lose weight on the DASH diet because fruits and vegetables are quite filling, which makes it easier to cut excess calories from other foods, like junk food and desserts.
I’m not saying it’s easy, and it definitely takes some careful planning and maybe some extra time in the produce department, but it is doable. Here’s a sample meal plan to get you started:
Cheerios with ½ banana and 1% milk
½ banana with peanut butter on whole wheat bread
2 cups mixed vegetable salad with chicken or tuna
bunch of grapes (at least 15)
10 baby carrots; ½ red pepper, sliced mini cucumber
Hummus or dip
Grilled chicken or fish
1 cup fresh berries drizzled with chocolate syrup
Did you get them all? I counted 10 (the potato is a starch and I counted the afternoon snack as 2 servings). Spreading out the fruits and vegetables throughout the day makes it much easier to meet the goal, and you can see that you won’t be hungry because you’re eating all day long. Try this for one week, and feel free to substitute ANY fruits or vegetables that you like. For inspiration, you can find more recipes here or download a free e-cookbook from the Meatless Monday website.
Let me know how you do! Eat well!