February is Heart Health Month! When it comes to improving your heart health, the Mediterranean Diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, also known as DASH Diet, are the science-based diets you will want to implement this year. Even if you do not have high blood pressure, tips adapted from the DASH Diet have proven beneficial for those with a family history of heart disease, those wanting to control their heart-related condition, or those simply looking to prevent one altogether.
Both heart-healthy diets can benefit your overall health. These benefits include but are not limited to:
- Improved cholesterol numbers
- More stable blood sugar levels for controlling or preventing type 2 diabetes
- Lower blood pressure readings
- Better immunity for preventing COVID-19 and other viruses
- Improved brain function for preventing early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Preventing many types of cancers
4 Tips for how you can implement the Mediterranean Diet:
1. Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, focusing mainly on non-starchy vegetables. For example, kale, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, beets, celery, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers, etc. Fruits and vegetables have loads of antioxidants, also known as phytochemicals, which are responsible for the prevention of many diseases. Try having a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables week-to-week for ultimate disease and ailment protection.
2. Cook with fresh herbs, spices, dressings, and fresh fruits, such as Italian seasonings (basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, oregano, etc.), lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and more! There are plenty of ways to flavor your foods without adding table salt or high-sodium seasonings. The sodium recommendation for all healthy Americans is 2,300 mg per day. As a visual, 2,300 mg sodium equals one teaspoon of salt, yet the typical American consumes closer to 3,400 mg sodium per day, putting them at greater risk for hypertension and other heart-related conditions.
3. Enjoy up to 1-2 glasses of alcohol per day responsibly. Red wine can be part of a balanced heart-healthy Mediterranean diet in moderation. However, you should still consume the suggested amount of water per day. Women should aim for 8-10 glasses of water per day, and men should aim for 10-12 glasses per day. Do not consume alcohol if not cleared by your doctor to do so given your medication, family history, or if you are pregnant/trying to become pregnant.
4. Make physical activity a part of your lifestyle! Complete at least 2 ½ hours of moderate aerobic exercise during your week. Also, consider taking a brisk walk outside, trying a free workout app, or a new fitness class with a friend. Schedule a free movement consultation with a CoreLife personal trainer if you have not done so already. Sign up for the CoreLife gym membership for only $9.99/month, and receive 24/7 access, in addition to having virtual therapeutic exercise videos by CoreLife’s certified personal trainers. There are plenty of activities to get you moving, such as yoga, pilates, Zumba, and jazzercise. Find something you enjoy so that working out turns into something you look forward to!
6 tips for how you can incorporate the DASH Diet
1. Reduce your daily sodium intake to 1,500 – 2,000 mg sodium per day if you have hypertension or a family history of hypertension or heart disease. Follow your cardiologist’s more specific orders related to your high blood pressure or heart condition.
2. Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, as potassium from produce plays a crucial role in helping to regulate blood pressure. However, filling half your plate with vegetables, primarily non-starchy vegetables, is the national recommendation for all.
3. Drink plenty of water! Drinking enough water helps cushion your joints for less pain, protects your body’s organs and tissues from damage, and helps your kidneys and liver flush out toxins. You ideally want to drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. Add one cup at a time to your usual intake to slowly work your way up. Limit fluids if your doctor gives you a restriction for medical reasons.
4. Increase calcium and magnesium intake. Calcium plays an essential role in helping to keep your muscles moving (including your heart muscle) and hormones released. In addition, calcium assists with the absorption of Vitamin D. Magnesium plays a huge role in energy production, blood glucose control, blood pressure regulation, muscle relaxation, and nerve function. Foods high in calcium include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, in addition to the calcium found in dark green leafy vegetables and dairy products (i.e., Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese, and skim milk). Magnesium-containing foods include nuts, seeds, legumes, dark chocolate (70% cacao content), greens, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
5. Decrease saturated fat intake. Saturated fat is found in red meats (i.e., bacon, sausage, salami, fatty steaks or burgers, etc.), cheeses, chocolate, pastries, creams, etc. Do your best to have no more than 7% of your total day’s calories from saturated fats. It is important to reduce your saturated fat intake to prevent developing high cholesterol and clogged arteries that could lead to a heart attack.
6. Increase fiber and protein. It is recommended that men aim for 38 grams of fiber per day, while women aim for 30 grams of fiber per day. Fiber comes from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (i.e., beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, etc.). Alternating your sources of fiber plays an essential role in helping control blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and preventing constipation/irregular bowel movements.
Happy Heart Health Month, and enjoy implementing at least one new heart-healthy habit into your lifestyle this week! It is always a good thing to challenge yourself in a positive, productive way for long-term optimal health. Remember, your heart health starts with prioritizing it, so start small and start today!