In February, we celebrate love so it’s no coincidence that February is also American Heart Month. The American Heart Association reminds us to focus on heart health this month by practicing some good old-fashioned self-love.
Let’s set the stage. According to the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Stroke Association (ASA):
- Heart disease (coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke) is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States
- About 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day. That's an average of 1 death every 38 seconds.
- Someone in the US has a stroke or heart attack every 40 seconds.
Scary stuff! Why are we telling you this? Because there's good news and it comes from the kitchen! Heart disease can often be prevented and reversed by making healthy choices. The AHA and ASA track seven key health factors and behaviors called “Life’s Simple 7” that are indicators for heart health:
Not-smoking, getting physical activity, eating a healthy diet, maintaining healthy body weight,
and controlling cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar
Five of the seven can be tied directly to choices we make about what and how we eat.
Certain foods can influence blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels, and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. This month is a great time to consider crowding out the foods that can contribute to heart disease, like cheese, meat, and eggs and replacing them with healthier choices. You can start right now by getting familiar with the top 10 heart-healthy foods:
- Leafy, green vegetables (kale, collards, spinach, and chard are a few). An important source of vitamin K, these greens can help protect your arteries and have nitrates that can help lower blood pressure. Why not make our Kale Caesar Salad tonight?
- Whole grains (oats, quinoa, barley, farro are some) are loaded with fiber which can help lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol and reduce systolic blood pressure. This weather calls for a big pot of Mushroom Barley Soup, doesn't it?
- Berries contain high levels of antioxidants which can lower the inflammation that contributes to the development of heart disease. Start your day with a Berry Delicious Smoothie Bowl.
- Avocados are a source of healthy, monosaturated fat which can actually lower the bad cholesterol and raise the good (HDL) kind. They are also high in potassium which can lower blood pressure. Have you ever made chocolate mousse from avocados? Wow!
- Nuts and seeds (like almonds, walnuts, hemp, pumpkin, flax, chia, and sunflower) have been shown to provide heart-healthy omega 3 fats, reduce blood pressure, and lower bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol. They are also linked to lower inflammation. For something new, try one of our most popular burger recipes from a class for a hefty dose of both nuts and seeds.
- Beans of all kinds reduce triglycerides, bad cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation. Better make beans your new best friend and try them in this Cannellini Bean and Butternut Squash Stew.
- Tomatoes, including canned, contain lycopene which has been shown to increase good cholesterol and lower inflammation. Make a batch of our Hearty Tomato Sauce (with some secret ingredients!).
- Garlic contains a compound called allicin which is linked to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure. It may also inhibit blood clots. Consume garlic raw in dressings and sauces, like tahini sauce, or crush it and let it sit for a few minutes before cooking to allow for the formation of allicin which maximizes its potential health benefits. Try our Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup for a healthy dose of garlic.
- Edamame, or green, immature soybeans, contain soy isoflavones which have been shown to help decrease cholesterol levels. Don’t confuse the benefits of whole edamame beans with the soy that’s found in processed foods. This Forbidden Rice Salad has a healthy dose of edamame beans.
- Green tea is full of compounds that reduce inflammation and that are associated with lower levels of blood pressure and overall cholesterol. Some studies have shown that it helps burn fat, too! Have you tried Chef Sara's Miso, Shiitake, Green Tea Noodle Bowls?
So this starting this month, start or increase your heart-healthy eating–because you're worth it!