Graceful Health: Foods That Love Your Heart | Community News

In February, we naturally think of hearts because of Valentine’s Day. Building on this theme, February is also American Heart Month, a time to focus on heart-healthy habits.

If you think about it, Valentine’s Day is a reminder of the best motivation to take care of your heart. A healthy heart helps ensure that you will continue to be here, with and for those you love.

You’ve probably heard of heart disease statistics. It’s a big problem. Heart disease and high blood pressure (hypertension) affect approximately 25% of the American adult population. Without regular checkups and a healthy diet, hypertension can be a “silent killer,” damaging your blood vessels and causing no obvious symptoms until it gets serious, when strokes and fatal heart attacks occur.

With all of that in mind, taking care of your heart is clearly the perfect gift for your loved ones this February.

Maybe you’ve heard heart-healthy advice in negative terms – don’t eat this, don’t eat that. Taking care of your heart doesn’t have to be about deprivation. I’d like to share some dietary tips from the Grace Cottage dietitian that can make heart-healthy eating fun.

One way to love your heart is to lower your cholesterol through fiber.

For example, you can start your day with a delicious fruit smoothie. The heart-healthy secret ingredient here is beans. Yes, beans! Your heart loves fiber and beans are a great source. Added to fruit and low-fat yogurt or milk (any type), beans add creaminess, without adding fat. To celebrate love, try a red smoothie: baked beans, frozen cherries or raspberries, banana, yogurt or milk, and a splash of maple syrup. Festive and delicious!

Another way to incorporate cholesterol-lowering fiber into your diet is to eat a breakfast of cooked oatmeal (not instant) or pearl barley with dried fruit. Both of these dishes take a bit of time to cook, so if that’s too much for your morning routine, simplify your life by cooking a big batch on your day off or in the evening, then spooning it into muffin tins. (heart-shaped, perhaps?) to freeze, then transfer the portions to a zip-top bag – ready for quick reheating in the microwave.

For lunch, add fiber by topping your salad with cooked lentils, chickpeas or hummus, and go light on the dressing. Or add pearl barley to the soup instead of white rice or white pasta.

When you need a snack, your heart will love a handful of dry roasted, unsalted nuts. Or peanut butter or almond butter on bread (for fun, cut in the shape of a heart?).

Yes, your heart loves fiber because it binds to cholesterol in the digestive system and helps move cholesterol out of the body.

Another way to take care of your heart with food is to focus on making the fats in your diet mostly from plants rather than animals. If possible, avoid cooking with butter or lard and use a vegetable oil like olive oil or peanut oil. Try swaps such as: guacamole on a quesadilla instead of sour cream, peanut butter on toast instead of butter, nuts in a salad instead of cheese.

A good romantic dinner might consist of baked salmon, a barley salad cooked with dried cherries, chard or steamed spinach, and a baked apple or pear with cinnamon and a touch maple syrup for dessert. Easy, delicious and high in fiber – your heart will love you for it.

During the month of February, we see hearts everywhere, reminding us to show love for the special people in our lives. How about giving your heart a Valentine’s Day by choosing foods your heart loves? In return, your heart will love you back!

Jim Picone is a Certified Physician Assistant. He graduated as a Physician Assistant with an MD from the University of Iowa. During his decades of professional experience, Jim has worked at Central Vermont Medical Center, University of Vermont Medical Center, Green Mountain Orthopedic Surgery, and Valley Regional Hospital Orthopedic Group. He joined the Grace Cottage team in 2019.

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