Jordan Douglas, MS, HHC
February is heart health month – a great time to check in with how we’re nourishing our hearts. Heart disease is largely preventable, yet remains the number one cause of death in America. There are many aspects that contribute to a heart-healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, stress management practices, cultivating joy, maintaining a healthy weight and of course eating a healthy diet.
Today we’re going to unpack what it means to eat a heart-healthy diet. There is a substantial body of research to support that eating a modified version of the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and is highly beneficial in maintaining cardiovascular health. The Mediterranean diet consists of whole, unprocessed foods – think an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh herbs and spices and moderate intake of poultry, fish and red wine. Let’s dive a little deeper into some of the key aspects of this heart-nourishing nutrition approach:
- Whole, fresh, unprocessed foods: It is well-known and well-documented that processed, packaged foods (particularly refined sugars and oils) increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. When we’re eating for heart health, we want to focus eating a variety of real, whole foods.
- Antioxidants: Eating the clean rainbow of fruits and vegetables helps to ensure we’re maximizing our antioxidant intake, which helps to decrease inflammation, facilitate healing and promote cellular health. Incorporate polyphenol-rich foods like pomegranate, blueberries, green tea, good-quality dark chocolate and olive oil.
- Dark leafy greens: Rich in nitrates, these beauties (think kale, spinach, beet greens, chard, dandelion greens, dark leafy lettuces, microgreens) open the blood vessels, protect our vasculature and reduce inflammation.
- Moderate intake of high-quality fats: Aim for predominantly unsaturated fats (liquid fats like olive oil) and small amounts of saturated fats (solid fats like grass-fed butter, ghee, and coconut oil). Limit intake of animal fats and trans fats, both of which have been shown to contribute to cardiovascular disease.
- Omega-3s: A balanced omega-3 to omega-6 ratio (ideally 1:2 or 1:3) supports cardiovascular health. Flaxseeds offer a fantastic plant-based option loaded with omega-3s that can be added to oatmeal, smoothies and salads. Cold-water, low-mercury fish like tuna, sardines and salmon can also be enjoyed a couple of times a week.
- Whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes: These are great sources of nutrients and fiber, which supports healthy cholesterol and stable blood sugar levels. Add in oats, barley, almonds, walnuts and flaxseeds.
Keep in mind that this provides a general template, as there is no perfect food or one-size-fits-all diet for heart health; if you’re curious to learn more about eating a heart-healthy diet or to customize according to your specific needs, email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a free 30-minute virtual nutrition counseling session.