American Heart Month, Remember to Love Yourself

9 February, 2018

by Allyson Mitidieri, Katz JCC Nutritionist

February is American Heart Month. This month is meant to serve as a reminder for all that a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating choices will help lower heart disease risk. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States, so most of us have been impacted by this disease in some way. The good news is, by taking the right steps, this disease can be avoided. While quitting smoking, physical activity, and stress management are all important steps – changing nutrition habits might be what makes the difference for you or your family. Here are some healthy eating tips to help you prevent heart disease:

Cut back on high calorie beverages. Sugar sweetened beverages and alcohol tend to be heavy hitters when it comes to calories. 8 ounces of most sugary beverages have around 100 calories, and most people don’t stop at 8 ounces. While that “healthy” 100 calorie daily glass of wine seems harmless, if you are consuming more than that, you are consuming a higher calorie intake, and you are making it more difficult to keep resolve to control your food intake.

Try and break the sugar-sweetened beverage and alcohol habit.  Replace them with unsweetened beverages such as water, sparkling water, diffused water (lemons, limes, cucumbers or fruit), hot or iced tea.

Limit saturated fat. Fats from animal products, salad dressings, coconut oil, and fried foods are mostly saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease. Reduce portions, cut visible fat from meat, remove skin from poultry, and prepare foods using low fat cooking methods (baking, broiling, roasting).  Low fat dairy options are best if you are consuming dairy.

Choosing unsaturated fat sources like olive oil, nuts and seeds, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and avocado instead of animal fats might help to lower heart disease risk.

Eat more vegetables and fruits! Vegetables and fruits contain essential nutrients and fiber for good health, and are naturally low in fat and sodium.

Vegetables should fill half of your plate, and fruits are great as snacks or desserts. Try to make these items your main course of the meal a few times a week.

Reduce sugar.  Most people consume too much sugar. It can go unnoticed in juices, jellies, jams, cookies, candies, cakes, pies, regular soda pop, cereals, and condiments. Even certain processed meats might contain added sugar!

Start by limiting obvious sources like cake, candies, cookies, and pie, while switching to naturally sweet foods like fresh or frozen without sugar added fruits. Switching to alternate sources of sugar like honey, agave, or raw sugar makes no difference; they are still sugar!

Cut the sodium and increase the potassium.  High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.  A high sodium, low potassium diet links to high blood pressure, but many people feel that low sodium foods taste bland. Replace salt and high sodium spice mixes with some natural spices, like pepper or any of your favorites.  Read labels and try to avoid foods and beverages that are high in sodium.

Increasing potassium in your diet can also help lower blood pressure. Vegetables and fruits are some of the best sources of potassium.

Switch to whole grains. Whole grains have the potential to help lower cholesterol, and the fiber helps keep you regular. They also tend to have more flavor than their refined counterparts!

Try whole grains that are quick cooking, like quinoa or oats. Whole grains can be used in salads, as side dishes, or can be eaten as a hot breakfast cereal.

Of course, it is important to think about all aspects of disease prevention. If you smoke, stop as soon as you can. Know your numbers – like cholesterol, LDL, blood pressure and blood glucose if you have diabetes. Finally, find ways to stay active and keep moving. All of these steps are important!

To help jumpstart your way into good health, start these habits early.  Cooking with Heart for Kids is a program open to the community for kids in grades 2nd through 5th that will be run this Sunday , February 11 at 1:30pm. This hands on food prep and cooking demonstration with recipes keeps things simple and healthy for kids. The earlier that healthy eating starts, the better! This will be a great program for all involved.

If you have any questions on nutrition for heart health, shoot me an email at or give me a call (856) 424-4444 x1236.

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