Showing Your Heart You Care

February is American Heart Month and it’s a good time to take charge of your health. To help you get started, the American Heart Association is offering up fresh approaches to get you started on the right track!

Start with a clean slate: Clean and organize your pantry and fridge by chucking the overly processed junk foods. Replace those sugary cereals, cookies and crackers with hydrogenated oils, bottled salad dressings and refined grains like white rice and pasta. Instead, stock up on healthy granolas and unsalted nuts and seeds; a good olive and avocado oil; a variety of vinegars; and whole grains such as quinoa, farro, bulgur, millet and brown rice. Evidence of your clean slate will help: Post “before” and “after” photos on social media to inspire yourself and your friends.

Be truthful: It can be easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re eating healthy. Sure, there are carrots in that cake and peaches in that pie. But these foods don’t count toward the fruits and veggies you should eat every day.

Cook more: Develop seven to 10 go-to healthy recipes and the shopping lists you need for them. Print them out or take photos of them with your phone. Let family members pick favorites. Aim to try a new recipe once a week or once a month. Try tweaking favorites with different ingredients.

Reduce sodium: Experiment by seasoning food with herbs and spices such as basil, black pepper, cayenne, garlic, nutmeg, and ginger instead of salt.

Include more seeds. Many seeds offer heart-healthy fats, fiber, protein and important nutrients such as magnesium and potassium. Keep a shaker with unsalted sunflower seeds, flax seeds, in your refrigerator to sprinkle over soups, salads, yogurt and oatmeal.

Stop throwing away fiber. A good portion of a fruit or vegetable’s fiber content – important for digestive health, heart health and to reduce risk of some cancers – can be found in its peel. So wash the outside but don’t remove the peel from potatoes and apples when cooking. (Only do this with edible peels – not pineapple, orange and avocado peels.)

Read the ingredient list: Many people focus on the package front and the Nutrition Facts label. A quick shortcut if you’re confused: Start by looking for foods with nutritious ingredients listed first, such as whole grains, fruits or vegetables.

Graze, don’t gorge: If you’re at a party with a tempting spread, try a small sample rather than a full portion. Balance these tantalizing snacks with healthier options such as fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, or have a healthy snack before you go so you’re not hungry when you arrive.

Help make healthy food more available: If you have a school-age child, team up with other parents to advocate for healthier cafeteria foods. At home, always have a stock of ready-to-eat healthy snacks on hand so they’re easy to grab and go when hunger strikes.

Stay hydrated. Start the day with a glass of water first thing in the morning. Look for healthier options than sugar-sweetened beverages such as sparkling water. Make water tastier by adding fruit to your ice cubes.

Get moving. While many of us focus on diet with our resolutions, remember the importance of getting active, too. It doesn’t take a lot of exercise to improve your heart health, help lose weight and just feel better. But it can help to keep track of your exercise time. The American Heart Association recommends an hour and a half a week of moderate physical activity for most adults each week (or at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week or a mix of both). Kids should get about an hour a day.

Written by Madelyn Alexander, American Heart Association - St. Louis Chapter

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