Love your heart with these foods

Nancy Teeter, RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

National Heart Month, February, is just a couple of weeks away. This month serves as a reminder that what we eat has a significant impact on systemic inflammation which in turn influences the risk of cardiovascular disease. If you have not already incorporated all eight tips listed below, consider adopting one or two healthy behaviors each week in February. Your heart will love you for it.

1. Minimize ultra-processed products

There are lots of exceptionally healthy processed foods including frozen vegetables, yogurt and canned beans, but processing that strips foods of their natural goodness and adds questionable ingredients should be avoided. Take a look at the ingredient list; if you can find all the ingredients in the store and the product doesn’t contain an excessive amount of added sugar, then it is likely to be healthful in moderate amounts.

2. Consume six or more servings of vegetables daily

A serving is generally one-half cup. When you make vegetables the focal point of every meal you are more likely to meet this target. Be sure to choose vegetables from the full color spectrum: dark green, bright and light.

3. Pump up the pulses

Because of their health benefits, pulses (dried vegetables which include beans and lentils) deserve recognition as superfoods. They are rich in protein, iron, fiber, potassium, folate and antioxidants and they are naturally low in sodium and cholesterol-free. Strive to consume at least one serving each day.

4. Snack on nuts

A handful (about one ounce) of nuts can promote heart health when they replace less healthful snacks like crackers and chips. Unsalted almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans are all nutrient powerhouses and provide a dose of fiber, too. Each nut has unique properties, so consider varying nuts on a daily basis.

5. Enjoy two generous servings of fruit daily

Though fruits contain natural sugars, they also contain an abundance of plant nutrients which support the health of our bodies and those of the tiny living organisms in our guts. Berries are the superstars of fruit, but so are oranges, bananas and watermelon—enjoy the full color spectrum.

6. Minimize saturated fat

Cut back on animal products high in saturated fat. These include full-fat dairy products (butter, cheese, whole milk, etc.), fatty beef, processed meats and eggs. Replace these foods with lean alternatives, avocado, nuts, seeds and extra-virgin olive oil.

7. Replace land animals with fish or plant protein

More often, replace land animal protein with plants or fish/seafood. At least twice a week include omega-3 rich fish which include wild-caught salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, anchovies, rainbow trout and barramundi.

8. Season liberally; limit sodium

Herbs and spices contain over 2000 health-promoting compounds. Options include ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, chilies, green herbs, garlic and onions.

Note: Nancy Teeter, RDN, is a SaddleBrooke resident and an expert in the anti-inflammatory diet and gut health.