Six healthy habits to implement in American Heart Month


In recognition of February being American Heart Month, the team of nutritionists at GIANT Food Stores and MARTIN’S Food Markets are making it easy for customers to show their heart some love by incorporating heart healthy tips into meal planning and preparation. Your heart, and your family, will thank you!

Choose more fruits and vegetables. A diet high in fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, may lower risk of heart disease, and helps keep us full in between each meal and snack, which aids in weight loss or maintenance. Potassium, also found in fruits and veggies, has been shown to help maintain a healthy blood pressure. Aim to get five – ten servings per day and choose fresh, frozen, or dried with no added salt or sugars. Unsure how to incorporate more produce into your diet? Fill half of your plate with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Add diced vegetables to your eggs, beans to your salad, grab fresh fruit for a snack, or add them to smoothies.

When buying meat or pork products, choose cuts labeled “loin” or “round.” These cuts usually have the least fat and can be prepared by broiling or grilling. Choose skinless poultry as the majority of fat is in the skin. Try also bulking up your ground beef by substituting with ground turkey or chicken. For example, if a recipe calls for one pound of ground beef, use ½ pound of extra lean ground beef plus 14-ounce can of cooked lentils or beans, or add chopped mushrooms to your ground meat for leaner, moister burgers.

Eggs are a great source of protein, but the yolk is high in fat. Try a three-egg omelet with one whole egg and two egg whites.

Add omega-3 fats into your diet. These unsaturated fats may reduce the risk of heart disease. Eat two 4-ounce portions of fatty fish each week such as salmon, tuna, herring or sardines. Walnuts and ground flaxseed are also great sources of omega-3’s and can be added atop a salad or sprinkled into yogurt.

Reduce your sodium intake. American consumers nearly double the recommended amount of sodium per day. Aim for no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. For those with risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease, aim for no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. More than 75% of our sodium intake comes from processed and restaurant foods so choose more fresh foods and cook more meals at home. Add flavor to your dishes by incorporating citrus fruits, herbs, spices and vinegar.

When out to eat, avoid choosing anything “fried” or “breaded.” Ask for dressings and sauces on the side, and then lightly dip into them instead of pouring over the top. Many restaurant entrees can also be split into two meals, so ask for a take-home box to be delivered with your meal.

Use either olive oil or canola oil in your cooking or baking. The monounsaturated fats in these oils can have a beneficial effect on your heart when eaten in moderation and when used to replace saturated fat and trans fat in your diet.

Avocado also contains monounsaturated fats. Try it as a spread on whole wheat toast or substitute an avocado slice for that slice of cheese on your sandwich.

Choose 1% skim milk, cheese and yogurt. It still has all the vitamins and calcium, but less saturated fat.

A 1-ounce serving of nuts can also give your diet a boost of good fats. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings (one serving = one ounce) of unsalted nuts a week. Select raw or dry roasted nuts.

Eat more beans. Beans are rich in soluble fiber, which can help in lowering cholesterol. Experiment with different varieties of beans such as black, pinto, white, garbanzo, lima and navy. Try a meatless dinner of beans and rice with a touch of salsa for a delicious high-fiber meal.

Plan some type of physical activity in your daily schedule at least 5-6 days per week. If you are just starting an exercise program, always start off slow, 10-15 minutes/day, and gradually increase to approximately 1 hour/day. Exercise can also be done at various times during the day, as in 15-20 minutes of walking after breakfast, 15-20 minutes of walking after lunch, and after dinner.