Valentine’s Day makes February a natural for American Heart Month. How can you make sure your heart will keep going pitter-patter, without going kerplunk? Let us count the ways…
Here are our top 10 tips for a healthy ticker:
1. Fill up on fiber. Not only does fiber help lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, it can aid weight management. Being overweight raises your risk of heart failure by a third, while being obese doubles it. While two-thirds of Americans are too heavy, only half get enough fiber. Top sources include oats, beans, raspberries, blackberries, oranges and green peas.
2. Go bananas. I did when I learned that 99 percent of women and 90 percent of men don’t get enough potassium in their diet. Responsible for regulating the fluid balance in our cells, potassium also blunts the effects of excess sodium. Too much sodium and too little potassium is a recipe for high blood pressure. Strike a healthier balance by cutting back on salt and increasing potassium intake with bananas, potatoes, broccoli and kiwi.
3. Say “no” to that extra cup of joe. Four or more cups of daily brew could elevate blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Drinking more than two cups of coffee a day can harden the arteries and contribute to arteriosclerosis. Switch to tea; its heart-healthy benefits include lower blood pressure and reduced inflammation.
4. “Beet” heart disease. Beets contain the antioxidant betanin, which can help keep LDL cholesterol from clogging your arteries, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Moreover, this root vegetable is a good source of folic acid, which helps to break down that heart-hurtin’ homocysteine. Top sources of folic acid include spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce and papaya.
5. Become a better listener. University of Baltimore researchers found that people with “dominant personalities” had a 47 percent higher risk of heart disease when compared to their more patient, passive peers. So how do you know if you’re “dominant”? Another study identified several markers – including the tendency to interrupt!
6. The “L” word your heart truly longs for: lycopene. This heart-healthy phytonutrient -; found in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit – may lower cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. Harvard researchers found that eating seven or more servings of tomatoes a week might reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent.
7. Choose healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats (think olive oil, avocado, nuts) – when used in place of saturated fats (think butter, bacon, beef) -help lower cholesterol. Another healthy fat – omega-3 – helps reduce inflammation. Omega-3 sources include wild salmon, walnuts and flaxseed.
8. Don’t turn breakfast into break-feast. While skipping breakfast actually lowers your metabolism, going overboard is no better. A new study done at the University at Buffalo found that big fatty breakfasts trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals associated with clogged arteries. So skip the stack of flapjacks and opt for a strawberry-banana smoothie.
9. Ode to soy. Twenty-five grams of soy protein per day can help lower cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. Soy’s other heart-healthy nutrients include folic acid and magnesium (which helps maintain normal blood pressure). Soymilk, edamame, tofu and soynuts are just some of the many ways to enjoy soy.
10. Go for a raise. In HDL cholesterol, that is. Higher levels of this “good” cholesterol can be almost as important as low levels of LDL cholesterol at keeping cardiovascular disease at bay. In addition to exercise, quitting smoking and limiting trans fats, a University of Scranton study found that drinking cranberry juice could help boost HDL levels.
Jennifer Grossman is the director of the Dole Nutrition Institute. – NU