When we think about Valentine’s Day, we often think about a big red heart that signifies our love for our Valentine. Just as you may think about the health of your relationship with your Valentine (and how your Valentine’s gift could positively or negatively impact that relationship!), it’s important to think about your actual heart - the one that pumps blood to keep your body running. February is American Heart Association Month, and while it’s always important to monitor how you can practice positive heart health, care for your heart and for the Valentine that owns your heart could be a great combination that will make for a great Valentine’s Day. So instead of focusing on that great Valentine’s Day meal, focus on the whole month, using February’s focus on heart to re-boot your health. Heart-healthy diet January is the month that everybody seems to be trying out a new diet. Often, people seem to pick a fad diet, and by February, many fail because so many fad diets require a severe cutback of many vital nutrients. Those that are still running strong with their new diets by February, though, are likely those that opted for a more balanced diet. Focusing on heart-healthy foods is a sustainable way to eat healthier and, unlike what your Valentine does to you, keeps your heart from skipping a beat. Some dos and don’ts for a heart-healthy diet include:
- Control your portion size: You don’t need seconds! Whatever you choose to eat, keeping your portions under control helps your heart health. A good way to start that is to eat on smaller plates at home.
- Fruits and vegetables: Load up on fruits and veggies as your heart-healthy diet gets underway. If possible, go for fresh fruits and vegetables, or secondarily, those from your grocer’s freezer. If you opt for canned fruits and veggies, make sure that they’re canned in water or juice, and are low in added sugar and salt.
- Whole grains: Get used to wheat bread, brown rice and whole-grain pasta. Whole grains pack extra fiber which helps your body to operate more smoothly.
- Opt for healthy fats: Not all fat is bad! Trade in the deep-fried food for “healthy fats” like avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Remember to watch your portions!
- At an Italian restaurant: Avoid the alfredo. Chicken Alfredo or similar decadent Italian dishes are packed with salt and fat. Go for a wine sauce, which is just as decadent, but much more heart-healthy
- At a seafood restaurant: Skip the pan-fried or deep-fried fish entree. Target dishes rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, cod and tuna.
- At a steakhouse: Many people think that a heart-healthy usually cuts out red meat. But it doesn’t have to. Skip the Porterhouse and New York Strip, and go for the “loins,” like sirloin or tenderloin.
Five Healthy Snacking Ideas If you’re trying to eat healthier or lose weight, we have a few ideas for you on the snack front. Snacking is normal, it’s hard not to snack a little bit throughout the day, but make sure you’re choosing healthy snacks instead of items that are bad for you. Snacks should generally be a combination of a protein, healthy fat and fiber. Though, they should not be a substitute for a meal. The key is to make sure you’re snacking smartly. Snacks should be a combination of a protein, healthy fat and fiber. You don't need to be a calorie counter, but it’s important to note — so your snacks don’t become meals — that they should be kept to approximately 150-200 calories. Seven Healthy snack ideas include: 1. Roasted Artichoke Hearts Artichoke hearts are ridiculously easy to make (see simple recipe here), They satisfy that crunchy craving while providing fiber and beneficial nutrients such as anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that are great for your overall health. The fiber will help you feel fuller longer and feed those beneficial bacteria in your gut. 2. Beetroot Dip A combo of greek yogurt and beets is the base for this dip (see beetroot dip recipe here). It is loaded with protein, which helps keep your hunger at bay by providing satiety and boosts your metabolism too. Plus, the beets offer beneficial nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and magnesium. Feel free to load up on the raw veggies, but keep the dipping to a few tablespoons. If beets aren’t your thing, you can simply grab your favorite Greek yogurt and top it with berries, sliced almonds or coconut flakes instead. 3. Rosemary Spiced Nuts Rosemary spiced nuts (see the spiced nut recipe here) are nutrient powerhouses packed with protein, fat and fiber, all which help to curb cravings so you don’t overeat at your next meal. They are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants such as vitamin E. Grab a small handful next time you’re hungry or give these rosemary spiced nuts a try. Adding herbs such as rosemary will make your snacks feel extra satisfying. 4, Apple Fries and Dip These may not be the real fries you are used to, but they are just as tasty (see Apple fries recipe here). The apple slices are high in disease-fighting antioxidants and flavonoids, while the peanut butter and Greek yogurt dip packs in healthy fats and protein. For an extra flavorful and nutritious boost, sprinkle cinnamon to help control blood-sugar levels and keep your metabolism in check. Use a medium-size apple and 1-2 tablespoons for each dipping session. 5. Veggie Chips Baking your favorite veggies make for great snacks. Make veggie chips (such as these kale chips or roasted beet chip recipes) to create the perfect salty, crunchy snack without all the processing and additives that come with packaged chips. Munch on these nutritious, tasty chips (approximately 1 cup) for a simple way to sneak in some extra veggies and keep you fueled all day long. These are a start, but make sure to ask your doctor for additional help with your weight loss or diet goals.
Adopting a healthy diet is not always as easy as it sounds. And even harder, is figuring out where to start? As you consider the parade of healthy diets in magazines and cookbooks, consider looking at the following to help you make sure you’re on the right healthy eating tract. Ensure your food:
- Includes a variety of foods from the major food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein including beans and other legumes, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats
- Provides guidelines for how much food to choose from each group
- Includes foods you can find in your local grocery store — rather than specialty or gourmet store items
- Fits your tastes, lifestyle and budget