Go ‘heart-healthy’ on Valentine’s Day
If you have been to the grocery or drug store lately, you have seen the aisles packed with heart-shaped and heart-decorated merchandise for Valentine’s Day.
There are a lot of sweet treats to buy and give, but what can you do to keep your loved ones healthy? Making and encouraging good heart-healthy choices on a daily basis is one of the ways we can express love for our families all year long.
So what does “heart-healthy” mean?
Like many of you I grew up with the image of the government-approved “food pyramid” on the walls of my classrooms. It instructed children to eat larger amounts of certain foods (cereals and rice at the bottom) and less of others (sweets at the top).
In the 1980s I remember the emphasis was on low-fat everything. Recently, I saw a salsa labeled as “nonfat.” Why would anyone ever add fat to salsa?
With misleading labels at the grocery store, outdated ideas from childhood of what is a healthy diet and bad habits we develop as a result of busy lives, how are we supposed to make good choices for ourselves and what should we be encouraging our families to choose?
There are 10 things I encourage my patients to try when they ask me what they can do to improve their heart health, reduce the risk of diabetes and lower their blood pressure:
1.) Eat breakfast every day. Your risk of developing diabetes goes up 30 percent when you skip breakfast as a habit.
Include some protein in your breakfast (a boiled egg, a cup of nonfat yogurt or cottage cheese, some whole wheat toast with nonfat cream cheese). It will keep your blood sugars more even and help you feel less hungry before lunchtime rolls around.
2.) Cut back on soda and limit sugary juices. If you must have soda, drink one diet soda per day. Choose water whenever you can. We often think we are hungry when we are actually thirsty.
3.) Limit red meat to less than once a week. Try cooking with poultry, wild meats or tofu. When substituting tofu in a recipe that calls for meat, doubling all of the spices and seasonings that the recipe calls for can help make it tasty.
4.) Switch to nonfat and low-fat dairy products. If you just cannot seem to go all the way to nonfat, try mixing half nonfat and half low-fat.
5.) Eat more fruits and vegetables. They’re full of nutrients that your body needs every day and your body absorbs those nutrients better when they are part of the food you eat and not just in your vitamin tablet.
6.) Avoid fried foods. I know, it seems like you can fry just about anything and it will taste good. Beer-battered, deep-fried shoe leather is probably delicious, especially if you dip it in full-fat ranch dressing. Avoid it anyway.
7.) Eat whole wheat and whole-grain breads and pastas and choose brown or wild rice. If you have trouble transitioning to whole-grain pasta, try pasta that is a blend of whole grain and refined flours. Check your breads to make sure there is not any added high fructose corn syrup.
8.) Avoid pre-packaged foods and meals. They are often high in salt, sugar and fats that raise blood pressure, blood sugar and triglycerides.
9.) Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Doing this keeps your insulin levels lower through the day, which helps you lose weight as long as you keep the snacks and meals healthy and small.
10.) Exercise regularly. It can be as simple as a 30-minute walk or two 15-minute walks every day. I choose the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther from the door and do anything I can to keep moving.
Making heart-healthy choices is a lot like having a positive attitude. It takes practice and the more you make a conscious effort, the more it will become second nature.
So go ahead on Valentine’s Day with a special treat, but use all the other days of the year to show your love for others and yourself by choosing to eat “heart-healthy.”
Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.