February is American Heart Month. SSMI Registered Dietitian Chrissy Barth has a few tips on what foods can keep your heart in tip top shape.

 Tip 1:

Cut back on refined sugars and sodium. One way to cut back on both is to avoid processed food as much as possible, since that’s where sugar and sodium are generally hiding. If you eat whole foods and cook for yourself, you’re most likely going to get much less of both. 

High sodium intake is correlated to hypertension or high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Keep your blood pressure in check by limiting your sodium intake. Don’t add extra salt to food and be mindful of canned and frozen foods, which are often high in sodium. I suggest tossing the saltshaker and replace it with fresh herbs and spices such as oregano, turmeric, thyme, basil, and cinnamon which are antioxidant powerhouses. 

Tip 2:

Choose more of the “good-guy” fats such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados. When it comes to nuts, nuts are high in fat, but it’s the right kind of fat for your heart. Almonds are especially heart-healthy, a convenient “on-the-go” snack and taste great!

The mono-unsaturated fat found in almonds is proven to protect against heart disease. It also contains phytochemicals and arginine-rich proteins, which have beneficial effects for the heart. Keep portions in check so a small handful a day is on target which is about ¼ cup.

Omega-3 fats are another “good-guy” fat and can reduce the “lousy” LDL cholesterol and increase the “healthy” HDL cholesterol. Get those fats from fresh fish, olive oil, avocado, flaxseeds, walnuts, and pasture-raised eggs. 

Although a diet high in saturated fat raises total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, recent studies suggest that those effects might not be as strong as once thought. If you’re goal is to eat for a healthier heart, my best advice is that you don’t have to skip saturated fat all together, and there might even be benefits to some foods high in saturated fat. Just limit it to certain meals and eat it in small servings as part of a diet that’s abundant in veggies.

Tip 3:

Fill up with soluble fiber by fueling with the color of the rainbow when it comes to fruits and veggies. This type of fiber helps lower blood cholesterol by binding to the “lousy” LDL cholesterol which ultimately may prevent heart disease.

Research has shown that increasing soluble fiber by 5 to 10 grams a day reduces LDL cholesterol by about five percent. Oats, psyllium, and barley are rich in beta-glucan, a soluble form of fiber, which has been proven to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.