Heart-smart eating is a lifestyle

February is Heart Month! Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day but also the month that the American Heart Association puts added focus on a heart-smart lifestyle. Heart Month has been a calendar event since 1963 and was reinvigorated in 2004 with the Go Red for Women Campaign.
In spite of the advances we have seen in prevention and treatment, it is estimated that one in four deaths in America are caused by heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women. Pick one or more of the following ways to honor your heart, and those of the Valentines who are part of your life.
• Start with an easy choice: February 3 is National Wear Red Day. Look for Go Red events in your community; sign up and learn!
• Commit to stop smoking, if you are a smoker. This is still one of the leading risk factors and there is help available.
• Take the heart-healthy meal challenge. Aim for at least one more meal a day (or a week if the thought challenges you too much). Need help? Check out recipes.heart.org for some heart-healthy meal ideas.
• Aim for heart-healthy snacking. Those mini-meals add up to extra calories and are often foods that break the bank when it comes to heart-health. Here are some ideas:
• Non-fat yogurt with limited added sugar. Try it with a low fat granola, a sliced banana or frozen or fresh berries to add sweetness and fiber.
• A whole grain mini-bagel with peanut or almond butter for protein and fiber. Size is important to keep calories reasonable. Need more? Add some banana slices.
• Use salsa and raw veggies to replace high-fat dips.
• If dips are on your snack list, make them with zero-fat Greek plain yogurt instead of sour cream, or Neufchatel cheese rather than cream cheese. As for the veggies, add some broccoli and cauliflower with the usual carrots and celery. If chewing is an issue, try zapping the broccoli or cauliflower in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds and immediately plunge them in ice water.
• Popcorn can rule if you are using an air popper or a heart-healthy microwave choice. Just watch what you add by limiting the fat and the salt. A lower-sodium herb sprinkle or even some grated Parmesan cheese might be the better choice for you.
• Be the one who brings the heart-healthier treat to the gathering. Mini-muffins or cupcakes, fresh fruit, heart-friendly dips with veggies or whole grain pita chips (without salt). There is some truth to the idea “all foods fit in moderation” but it’s not easy to judge moderation at a party or event where there is food.
• Stock up on some heart-healthier ingredients or tools and learn to use them. These might be herbs and spices to pep up salt-reduced meals, balsamic vinegar to add flavor to salads while you are reducing the fat, canola oil (or another vegetable oil with a good smoke point) for quick sautéing, an oil spray canister for spraying on oil, non-fat milk or yogurt and lower-fat cheeses (some cheeses feature low-fat milk), and a spread that has a heart-healthy oil as the major ingredient rather than a partially hydrogenated oil (a signal of a trans-fat).

By Judy Dodd, MS, RDN, LDN
For Pittsburgh Senior News