February is American Heart Month and instead of telling you about all the unhealthy foods you should avoid, I wanted to focus on some heart healthy alternatives that you can feel good about adding to your diet.
These cold water fish provide a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3’s are known to reduce triglyceride levels, decrease blood pressure and delay the formation of plaque in your blood vessels. But there is an important difference in Omega 3 levels in wild salmon vs farmed salmon. Wild salmon is found in its natural habitat. The diet of a wild salmon is mainly Krill (looks similar to shrimp). Krill provides the high amount of heart healthy omega 3’s and gives salmon its natural pink color. On the other hand, farmed salmon are raised in densely packed pens and are fed a cheap diet of fishmeal. The flesh of a farmed salmon is actually a grayish white color due to no krill in its diet. Instead, salmon farms use artificial coloring to give the flesh its pink color. Also, no krill means that farmed salmon is much lower in the heart healthy omega 3’s.
What to do: Choose wild salmon if it is available. If you can’t find it fresh, you can usually find wild salmon filets in the frozen food section of your local grocery store. Enjoy at least two servings of fish weekly, preferably fatty fish like salmon (wild), tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, and lake trout to.
Oats are beneficial for heart health because of the soluble fiber content. Soluble fiber is particularly good at binding with cholesterol and reducing its absorption in your body. This in turn helps to lower your total cholesterol and most importantly your LDL cholesterol. If you are looking for something different than your standard rolled oat, try steel cut oats! They have a nuttier flavor and a slightly chewy texture! Takes a little longer to cook, but the end result is worth it!
Beans are truly an amazing food! They are especially good for your heart because of the high fiber content. A 1/2-cup serving contains 6-7 grams of total fiber (1-3 grams of which is soluble fiber). Beans are also high in protein so enjoy 3-5 servings each week in place of meat.
Not sure how to add them into your diet? Add Beans to your favorite salad or soup. They also make a great side dish. If you are short on time, use canned beans (look for a reduced sodium can) and be sure to rinse thoroughly before adding to recipe.
People often think that all fat is bad for your heart. However, all fats aren’t created equal. Monounsaturated fats can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels in your blood and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Where can you find these monounsaturated fats? Some good sources are olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil and sesame oil, avocados, peanut butter, and most nuts and seeds.
What to do: replace saturated fats and trans fats(butter, hydrogenated oils, lard) with more monounsaturated fats to improve heart health.
Yes, chocolate can be a heart healthy dessert! It’s the percent of cacao that makes all the difference! Dark chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cacao has more antioxidants called flavonoids than milk chocolate. These flavonoids have been shown to reduce blood pressure as well as reduce inflammation. Moderation is important in the chocolate department. Enjoy about 3/4 ounce of dark chocolate a few times per week and be sure to balance your intake to avoid excess calories and weight gain.
If you would like to schedule a counseling session with a registered dietitian at Noble Hospital, please call 413-568-2811 ex: 5671 for more information.
Allison Walker RD,LDN, is the Clinical Nutrition Manager at Noble Hospital.