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Love Your Heart this Valentine's Day with a Plant-Based Diet | February 12, 2014

February is American Heath Month, so don’t forget to give your heart some love this month with a little extra nutrition boost!  According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States.  But here’s the good news:  heart disease is completely preventable, with proper nutrition and exercise.  Here are some heart healthy options to reach for:

  • Nuts and Seeds – Nuts are high in unsaturated fats and Vitamin E, an antioxidant that is good for your heart.  Specifically, almonds can raise HDL (“good” cholesterol), and walnuts are high in omega-3 fats, which reduce blood clotting and increase circulation.  Seeds such as flax seeds and chia seeds are also beneficial (try adding to smoothies or salads).  Nuts are calorie-dense, so strive for the proper service size (1/4 cup – one handful).
  • Oatmeal – Oats are a whole grain high in soluble fiber, which keeps you full and binds with cholesterol to carry it out of the body.  Aim for 25-30 grams of total fiber/day (at least 5-10 grams soluble fiber).  Look for less processed varieties of oats such as steel cut oats, old-fashioned or rolled oats and top with fresh berries and cinnamon for an extra hearth healthy punch!
  • Fish - Aim for two to three servings of fatty fish (such as salmon or tuna) per week, which is packed with omega-3 fats that reduce inflammation by reversing fatty buildup in your arteries.
  • Plant-based Fats – Olive and avocado oils, rich in monounsaturated fat, can raise HDL, while other vegetable oils are a blend of beneficial unsaturated fats.  Walnut and flaxseed oil are high in heart healthy fats, but hold up poorly to heart, so try drizzling these oils over salads.  In regards to coconut oil, numerous studies have demonstrated a neutral effect on cholesterol, as well as provision of a medium-chain fat that is not stored in the body, but readily broken down for energy.  However, more research is needed to determine any hearth healthy benefits of coconut oil.  Therefore, consume in moderation in the context of an overall healthy diet and use extra virgin coconut oil, which is free of hydrogenated oils and trans fat.
  • Fruits and Vegetables – Studies have found that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day can lower your risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol and buildup of plaque, regulating blood pressure, and clearing out toxic substances from your body.  Filling half of your plate with a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables will provide the best range of healthful benefits.
  • Red Wine – Moderate red wine consumption (one glass/day) is correlated with lower heart disease risk.  Dark red wine contains powerful polyphenols, which are a type of artery-scrubbing antioxidants.  Dark red Sardinian wine made from Cannonau grapes has actually three times the level of antioxidants (especially resveratrol) in it than other wines.  Here are some Sardinian brands available in the US: 2006 Sella & Mosca La Cala Vermentino ($14) and the 2004 Sella & Mosca Cannonau Riserva.  However, moderation is the key if you consume alcohol.
  • Dark Chocolate – Dark chocolate is high in potassium, magnesium, and copper, which regulate heart rhythm, and flavonoids, which can reduce incidence of blood clots and normalize blood pressure.  The darker the better – look for less processed cocoa free of hydrogenated oils with at least 70 percent cocoa solids, and consume in moderation.

Hint – any of the above would make wonderful Valentine’s Day treats to show your loved ones how much you care about them and their hearts!

Written with the help of Natalie Colla, U-Idaho Dietetics student