February is Heart Month, so it's a great time to make heart-healthy lifestyle changes. An unbalanced diet is a risk factor for heart disease. By making small changes to improve your diet, you can help prevent heart disease. Aim for a diet low in fat, cholesterol and salt. Choose foods that are high in fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables. F ollowing a few simple tips can help you make big improvements to your diet.
Select breads, cereal and crackers made with whole grains. Look for "100 percent whole wheat" or "whole grain" on the package or listed as the first ingredient on the nutrition label.
Many of your family's favorite products can be found in whole-grain varieties such as whole-wheat bagels, English muffins and hamburger buns.
Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Try setting a goal to add more produce to your diet by including at least one serving of fruits or vegetables with all your meals and snacks. Try a breakfast parfait with low-fat yogurt and fresh berries topped with whole-grain cereal, or carrot sticks with hummus for a snack.
Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy, including skim or 1 percent milk, reduced-fat cheese and low-fat yogurt to reduce your intake of c holesterol and saturated fats. Did you know skim milk has just as many vitamins and minerals as whole milk?
Reduce your salt intake. Most of the salt in our diets comes from processed foods. Eating fewer processed foods can help reduce your salt intake. Choose fresh, whole foods whenever possible. Look for reduced-sodium varieties of foods such as canned soups and vegetables, cheese, salad dressing and condiments. Limit your intake of processed meats such as bacon, sausage, bologna and ham. Try using a variety of herbs and spices to flavor your foods rather than adding salt. Eating a lower-sodium diet can help improve blood-pressure control.
Choose lean meats. Remove the skin from poultry before cooking, and choose beef and pork cuts labeled "loin," such as sirloin or tenderloin. Prepare meats using healthy cooking methods such as grilling, roasting, baking and sautéing because they require little or no added fats. Choose heart-healthy oils for cooking, including olive or canola, rather than butter, shortening, bacon grease or lard.
Do something good for you heart this month by taking steps toward a healthier diet.
Christine Estler is a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Diabetes and Nutrition Education.