Monday, February 4, 2019

February is known for celebrating the ones we love on Valentine’s Day, but it is also American Heart Month to help raise awareness about cardiovascular disease. Though we tend to lavish our loved ones with flowers, candies, love notes, and jewelry to show our love, it is easy to forget the things our own heart needs to stay healthy. Love experts can provide tips to tune up your relationships, but it's the choices you make along with consultation with your medical professionals like cardiologists and dietitians that can guide you to a lifestyle that promotes a healthy heart.

Our hearts are capable of love and heartbreak but are also at risk for cardiovascular disease including heart disease and stroke, which remain the leading global causes of death. Many risk factors are out of our control that put us at an increased risk for heart disease, like aging, family history, and race, but there are just as many things in our control that promote a healthy heart. Heart disease is greatly impacted by the types of foods we eat and the amount of physical activity we engage in daily. 

The foods we choose in our daily diet can lead to risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess weight. Experts tend to agree that a heart-healthy diet includes a balanced intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources. This includes foods with little to no processing which helps reduce the intake of sodium, which can improve blood pressure. Fiber is known to help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood reducing the amount of plaque that can accumulate in the arteries. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and products made with whole grain provide an excellent source of fiber. 

A new trend for eating is a “Plant-based or Flexitarian lifestyle.” These plans focus on a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, while limiting animal-based food products, a common suggestion for those trying to promote a healthy heart. Choosing lean protein foods and low fat dairy products reduce the amount of saturated fat in the diet, a known promoter of LDL (low-density lipoproteins) cholesterol levels that increase heart disease risk.  

Small changes daily can make a large impact on your risk for heart disease. Here is a list of food sources that promote a healthy heart.

Food Choices that Promote a Healthy Heart:


  • Cereals and bread made from whole grain, including whole wheat, barley, rye, buckwheat, corn, teff, quinoa, millet, amaranth, brown or wild rice, sorghum, and oats
  • Pasta, especially whole wheat or other whole grain types
  • Brown rice, quinoa or wild rice
  • Whole grain crackers, bread, rolls, pitas


  • Lean cuts of beef and pork (loin, leg, round, extra lean hamburger)
  • Fish &  poultry
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Nuts and nut butters (unsalted)
  • Meat alternatives made with soy or textured vegetable protein
  • Egg whites or egg substitute


  • Nonfat (skim), low-fat, or 1%-fat milk
  • Nonfat or low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Fat-free and low-fat cheese


  • Fresh
  • Frozen
  • Canned vegetables (without added fat or salt)


  • Fresh
  • Frozen
  • Canned (with low or no sugar added)
  • Dried fruit


  • Unsaturated oils (corn, olive, peanut, soy, sunflower, canola)
  • Soft or liquid margarines and vegetable oil spreads
  • Salad dressings made from unsaturated fats
  • Seeds, nuts, and avocado

In addition to balancing what we eat, movement and exercise helps us manage our weight, another important element to a healthy heart. Experts recommend 30 minutes of exercise a day, but determining your own type and amount of activity should be discussed with your healthcare team.

This February remember to give your heart some love by adopting some of these foods into your daily intake. The one you love will appreciate it just as much as the cards, candy, flowers, and jewelry. If you would like additional information about heart-healthy eating visit and for more tips, recipes, and ways to promote a healthy heart all year long.


By Lisa Gibson, MS, RDN, LD


Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

American Heart Association & Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics