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Plan for a Healthier Diet and Lifestyle During Heart Health Month

Photo: Thinkstock/GeorgeRudy

February is Heart Health Month.  Why should we be concerned about heart health for all Americans? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths of Americans. And, every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack — 325,000 of these are a first occurrence, and 210,000 are people who have already had a heart attack. 

Keeping reading for RDN-recommended diet and lifestyle changes that can keep your heart in the shape that you want.

Healthy Diets 

I consulted with a number of dietitians for recommendations on eating a heart-healthy diet. Their advice?

Aileen Birkitt, RD, owner of Nutrition 4 You, LLC

Birkitt recommends eating fish two times a week to increase healthy fats for heart health, and adds that ground flaxseed, ground chia seeds and walnuts also provide heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. She also recommends eating three balanced meals and one or two snacks per day while paying attention to hunger and fullness signals.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Angel Planells, MS, RDN, CD

Planells stresses, “Failure to plan is planning to fail. For a greater chance of success when making changes to your daily regimen, it is best to plan meals, snacks and physical activity throughout the day.” He adds that it should be a goal to limit dining out to those days when you are celebrating special occasions.

Sarah Krieger, MPH, RDN, LDN, child and adolescent weight management expert

Krieger advises that people not cook or make a meal plan if they are hungry, noting that hunger may cause people to snack mindlessly.

Mandy Enright, MS, RDN, RYT, and creator of couples nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials

Enright recommends the trifecta of fiber, protein and movement for weight management. High-fiber sources are fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, legumes and seeds. Lean protein sources include fish, poultry, low-fat cheese, low- or non-fat dairy, nuts and seeds. 

Stress Management 

Stress management is another important part of a healthy lifestyle for many Americans. Some ways to keep stress in check:

  • Krieger recommends quiet music or meditation during the daily commute to reduce stress.
  • Planells advises that people only focus on what they can control in their lives while practicing self-care in the form of yoga, meditation, stretching or taking a walk.
  • Because meal planning can be a significant source of stress for most families, Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, sports dietitian and nutrition blogger at Eat Real Live Well, counsels that they not prepare a different recipe each night, but instead spend a Sunday afternoon to cook vegetables, lean protein and whole grains that can be reheated throughout the week to build balanced meals.
  • Birkitt adds that it can be helpful to begin each week drawing up and shopping for a list of needed items. Stock up on certain pantry staples, she adds, so they’ll be on hand for popular dinners.

Planning for and being more mindful of a healthy lifestyle and diet can allow people to have more quality fun in their lives, and all of those things combined can translate into a healthier heart. 

Tracy Williams is a writer and public speaker with a focus on nutrition and childhood nutrition. She is graduate of Dominican University with a degree in nutrition and dietetics. Connect with her through her website, Tracy's Plate.

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