Food for Thought- February is Heart Month


February is one of my favorite months for all things I heart.   It starts with Groundhog Day on the 2nd, which takes me back to my days of living in Nebraska, when I would sit patiently, hoping for sun so Punxsutawney Phil would not see a shadow.  When he did—and it happened quite often—it prolonged winter for six more weeks. Ugh.  February 2nd is, however, also Go Wear Red Day, empowering women and raising awareness of heart disease to drive change.  Heart disease is currently the number one killer of both men and women in America, claiming the lives of approximately 610,000 Americans annually. Symptoms of heart disease vary among women, and they are more likely than men to feel pain in other areas of the body besides the chest, such as the neck, jaw, or even abdomen.

There are several lifestyle changes which can greatly reduce the risk for heart disease.   These include physical activity, lowering blood pressure, eating a heart healthy diet and smoking cessation. 

Get Out and Move – The body was meant to move, so find something you like to do.  Movement should be enjoyable.  It might be yoga, biking or taking a walk.  Check out our Walk and Talk sessions, where you can learn and move at the same time. 

Reduce Sodium Intake – While the average American eats up to 3500 mg sodium per day, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.  Allowing 700 mg per meal can help balance the day. Fresh and less processed foods are naturally lower in sodium.  

Increase Potassium Intake – Some studies suggest increasing your intake of potassium can have more significant effects than reducing sodium, as many Americans do not get enough potassium in their diet. Foods like oranges, greens or peppers are high in potassium.  

Increase Variety – Include a variety of foods you enjoy into your meals and snacks.  The bigger the assortment, the more nutrients you can get in.  Certain foods have been shown to be particularly heart-healthy, including:

o   Whole grains like popcorn, brown rice or oatmeal provide the B vitamins for forming new cells, carrying oxygen in the blood and pumping up the immune system.   Adding walnuts, flax and/or chia seed to your oats increases the fiber content and provides Omega-3 fatty acids, which helps increase HDL cholesterol, the Happy Cholesterol providing cardiac protection. 

o   Fruits and vegetables – any and all.  Colorful and rich in nutrients, choose a different one to try each time you shop.  Shop in season and freeze when they are plentiful to save.   Smoothies count, too!

o   Add in plant proteins like beans, quinoa, and soy-based products like tofu or tempeh in place of meat one meal a day.  Stir them in to salads or soups, or stir-fry with veggies.  Plant proteins can reduce cholesterol but even better, they keep you satisfied. 

Finally, as the heart symbolizes the month of February, when Cupid’s arrows fly and we give ourselves permission to savor the sweets, now is a great time to turn that doting attention on ourselves and find ways to practice self-compassion and care. Chronic stress may also be a risk factor for developing heart disease, as consistently high levels of adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormone, can increase cholesterol and blood pressure over time. So, make time for yourself and find ways to combat the struggles of daily living.

P.S. Super Bowl LII is February 4th. No comment, we love the Jags and they should have won.