Giving a gift for someone's heart on Valentine's Day can mean a lot of different things — like making a special Valentine's Day dinner or giving a box of fabulous chocolates.
A better gift, though, would be to practice "heart healthy" behaviors.
These behaviors include not smoking, being physically active and a "heart healthy" way of eating.
What is this "heart healthy" way of eating? For one, it's eating to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and to lose weight if told to do so by a health care professional.
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Why? Being too heavy increases our risk for heart disease.
Generally, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight means monitoring our portion sizes, reducing the amount of high-fat, high-sugar foods and beverages we consume, and staying physically active.
"Heart healthy" also includes monitoring the amount and type of fat we eat. In general, we want to keep our fat calories to about 30 percent of our day's total calorie intake. Of that 30 percent, no more than 10 percent should be from saturated fat and about 10 percent each from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. Dietary guidelines introduced last year for Americans suggest we ultimately aim for only about 7 percent from saturated fat. Regardless, we need to avoid eating foods that contain trans fat — so read food labels.
"Heart healthy" eating includes a "rainbow of color" of vegetables and fruits daily. In fact, the new guidelines recommend half of our plate be covered with vegetables and fruits — and they don't mean French fries or apple pie.
In this "heart healthy" way of eating, about half of our servings from the grain group should also be whole grains — brown rice, 100 percent whole wheat bread/pasta/cereals, to mention a few. With respect to protein foods, "heart healthy" means monitoring portion sizes with about 3 ounces being an appropriate serving size; selecting leaner cuts of meat or poultry, trimming away visible fat or skin and broiling or baking instead of frying. Choosing more seafood/fish, cooked dry beans and peas, unsalted nuts and seeds as alternate protein sources is also recommended. Including fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk or milk products, in moderation, completes our "heart healthy" day's intake.
Being "heart healthy" also involves reducing sodium. The new guidelines recommend reducing daily sodium intake to less than 2300 mg. African-Americans, or people with hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or people 51 years of age and older, should reduce sodium intake to 1500 mg/day.
To do that, start reading food labels to select foods lower in sodium and go easy on or even eliminate the salt shaker from the table.
Remember, the best gift we can give ourselves and our loved ones this Valentine's Day — and beyond — is to practice "heart healthy" behaviors every day.