February is National Heart Month - a great time to make sure your ticker is tickin' properly. We've all heard it: change your diet, maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, quit smoking. But why? Can this advice really help you lower your cholesterol and improve your heart health? YES! Making small changes in your daily routine can add up to big benefits and help you live a healthier, more balanced life.
Start by making half of your grains whole. Whole grains are made from the entire grain seed, which provides essential, naturally occurring nutrients. Whole grains also offer additional fiber, which can help lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Think it's hard to get those recommended 20-30 grams of fiber per day? Think again. Just one cup of Post Raisin Bran cereal provides 32 percent of your Daily Value of fiber! It also boasts 13 vitamins and minerals and 22 grams of whole grains. Try a bowl of Post Raisin Bran with low-fat or fat-free milk for breakfast, or plain as an on-the-go snack.
It may be hard to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day, but adding tasteful and heart healthy seasonings can help you increase your intake. For example, adding Mrs. Dash seasonings and marinades to your veggies can pump up the flavor without adding additional sodium. Try adding Mrs. Dash Garlic Lime Marinade to your vegetables for zero milligrams of sodium, 1.5 grams of fat and only 30 calories per serving.
Unlike saturated and trans fat, omega-3 unsaturated fats are good for your heart. They are also essential fats because our bodies cannot make them on their own, so we have to get them from food. Omega-3s have been shown to help lower cholesterol, lower high blood pressure and help prevent heart disease. It may surprise you that a childhood favorite hosts these health benefits. JIF Peanut Butter is rich in unsaturated fat, which can lower your LDL cholesterol and possibly increase your HDL cholesterol too. Whether you enjoy crunchy or creamy, peanut butter is a simple way to keep your heart and taste buds happy.
Saturated fat has long been touted as your heart's worst enemy-- until now. Saturated and trans fats have both been shown to increase total cholesterol, increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL ("good") cholesterol. Traditionally trans fat has been added to food to increase a product's shelf life and is formed when liquid fat is turned into a solid through a process called hydrogenation. Trans fat is commonly found in stick margarine, shortening, some fried foods and processed foods made with partially hydrogenated oils. Cooking spray is a great way to cut back on fat and calories while you're cooking - so remember, Crisco is Cooking. Crisco cooking spray contains zero calories, zero grams of fat and zero milligrams of cholesterol per serving.
February is the perfect time to increase your heart health awareness. Remember to make half your grains whole, increase fruits and vegetables and know your fats. For more information on heart healthy nutrition, physical activity, recipes and shopping tips, visit the American Heart Association website at www.heart.org and My Pyramid website at www.mypyramid.gov.