February is American Heart Month: try these tips for heart-healthy nutrition

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The heart of the matter: understanding heart health and nutrition

In the realm of well-being, few topics are as vital as heart health. The heart, that tireless organ pumping life throughout our bodies, deserves our utmost care and attention. But how do we support its well-being? We chatted with Karen Conger, a registered dietitian at Harborview Medical Center, to gain insights into how to protect your heart health through nutrition.

The importance of heart health

Before we dive in, let’s take a moment to appreciate why heart health matters. The heart is the cornerstone of our circulatory system, supplying oxygen and essential nutrients to every cell in our bodies. A healthy heart fosters vitality, while poor heart health can lead to a myriad of issues, including hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Nurturing our hearts through thoughtful lifestyle choices, including nutrition, is paramount to our overall well-being.

Nutrition: the heart’s ally

Our discussion with Karen emphasized the profound impact of nutrition on heart health. Crafting heart-healthy meals doesn’t have to be daunting; it’s about embracing wholesome ingredients and mindful choices. Here’s a breakdown:

Plan heart-healthy meals

  1. Focus on whole grains (oats, brown rice, faro, quinoa), fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (beans, lentils, seafood/fish, tofu, tempeh, eggs), and monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, nuts).
  2. Emphasize additions rather than restrictions, allowing occasional indulgences without guilt.

Manage sodium intake

  1. The standard recommendation is 2400mg of sodium per day, ideally with a balanced distribution throughout the day.
  2. Explore flavorful alternatives to salt, such as herbs, spices, vinegar and citrus juices.
  3. Opt for low-sodium or no salt-added options when selecting canned goods and deli meats.
  4. Adopting a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy can help lower blood pressure.

Balance macro-nutrients

  1. Aim for approximately 30% of total calories from fat, with saturated fat limited to 7-10%. Examples of saturated fat: cheese, butter, whole fat dairy, red meat, coconut milk, skin on chicken
  2. Carbohydrates should comprise 40-60% of total calories, with a focus on balanced distribution throughout the day.
  3. Protein intake should range from 0.8-1.2g/kg of body weight per day.

Considerations for special diets

  1. Individuals with diabetes should manage carbohydrate intake, aiming for balanced portions at meals and snacks.
  2. A common misconception is that eating a vegan or vegetarian diet is inherently healthier for your heart. Vegetarian or vegan diets can support heart health but require attention to saturated fats, sodium and inclusion of whole plant foods. A vegan or vegetarian diet high in processed foods is not the solution for heart health.

Recipes for Heart Health

Image from Love & Lemons blog.

To kickstart your journey towards heart-healthy eating, here are a few simple and delightful recipes:

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Ingredients: quinoa, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, fresh parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Grilled Salmon with Herb Infusion

Ingredients: salmon fillets, fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, and dill), garlic, lemon zest, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Vegetable Stir-Fry with Tofu

Ingredients: tofu, assorted vegetables (bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, snap peas), ginger, garlic, low-sodium soy sauce, sesame oil and brown rice.

Learn more: recognizing stroke and heart disease 

Hundreds of UW faculty and staff have viewed this webinar with the Heart Institute at UW Medicine. It contains important information about recognizing signs of stroke, heart attack and heart disease with specific insights into how heart disease presents different based on gender. Learn more about heart health from Dr. Kevin O’Brien and Dr. Ruchi Kapoor.

Your journey to a healthier heart begins with the choices you make every day. By embracing nutritious, flavorful meals and prioritizing your well-being, you’re investing in the vitality of an essential organ—the heart. Remember, each bite is a step towards a healthier, happier you. Here’s to heart health and the nourishment it brings to our lives!