February is Heart Health Month

February is Heart Health Month, a good time to discuss those foods that support heart health. This is particularly important with older people, as an estimated 83 million Americans over the age of 60 – one in three – have at least one type of cardiovascular disease. That number jumps to 83 percent among men and 87 percent among women 80 years of age or older. The leading cause of death among both men and women – more than cancer, diabetes or stroke – is heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends eating:

  • At least 4.5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables
  • At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week of fish (preferably oily fish)
  • At least three 1-ounce-equivalent servings a day of fiber-rich whole grains. This includes whole wheat, oats/oatmeal, rye, barley, corn, popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, triticale, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, quinoa, and sorghum.
  • Less than 1,500 mgs a day of sodium. Foods that are high in sodium and should be avoided are table salt, sauces, salad dressings, cured meats, bacon, pickles, bullion, instant soup, roasted salted nuts, fast foods, and canned foods.
  • No more than 450 calories (36 ounces) a week of sugar-sweetened beverages
  • No more than two servings a week of processed meats. Common processed meats include sausages, hot dogs, salami, bacon, and ham.
  • Yogurt, milk, cheeses and other products that are low in fat (2% reduced fat or less).

One of the best reasons to include fruits and vegetables in your diet is not just for their antioxidants – which studies have shown can reduce the likelihood of heart disease – but because they also contribute a number of important nutrients that most people lack. This includes folate, magnesium, potassium and dietary fiber, as well as vitamins A, C, and K. Fruits and vegetables are also naturally low in saturated fat and calories.

While avoiding cardiovascular disease also depends on your lifestyle (no smoking or drinking, plenty of physical exercise) and genetics, a healthy diet can go a long way in helping prevent heart disease.