By: Cassidy Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston & Wilson County Center
Our bodies are like a vehicle. We know it needs fueling, but it is important to provide it the proper fuel- otherwise, the vehicle doesn’t run properly. Our body, like an automobile, require regular maintenance to extend its life. Our body, like an automobile, can’t sit still for too long- they need movement to keep things working smoothly. Unfortunately, if we fail to take care of our body, we can’t simply get a new one like when trading in an automobile.
In the last couple of months, I have known two family friends to die suddenly of a heart attack. Both individuals were under the age of 55 and took their blood pressure medication religiously. In America, we tend to like to bandage health issues. We take a daily prescription and tell ourselves we will begin making healthier choices “tomorrow.” Oftentimes, folks are most afraid of drastically changing their eating habits and they’re afraid their new diet may not taste very good. Healthy eating should be delicious and it does not have to take place all at once. In fact, making small changes over time has been shown to produce long-term results. Below are three simple steps that can make a huge difference in your heart health.
- Get more fiber from food
I tell my grandparents constantly to fit more fiber into their diet. They quickly remind me that they take Metamucil each day. This is not what I’m talking about; I’m talking about eating real foods with fiber. Personally, I think eating more fiber-foods is one of the most underrated pieces of nutrition advice available. Fiber does wonders for our bodies, and you can find fiber in the foods that medical professionals continue to encourage us to eat- fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains! We are all aware of foods that are categorized as fruits and vegetables, but there can be confusion about whole grains. Whole grains are minimally processed, so they contain the whole grain rather than just one part of the grain. Examples include 100% whole grain breads, 100% whole wheat bread (not ‘honey wheat’, sorry!), oats and oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa to name a few popular whole grains. The taste of these foods have dramatically improved in recent years. If you’ve not tasted whole grain foods in a while, give them another shot. Another tip is to try half “white” grains and half whole grains, such as half white rice and half brown rice or half white pasta and half whole grain pasta. You won’t find fiber in the “white” or refined versions of these foods and that makes a huge difference in the food’s impact on blood sugar, cholesterol, and how quickly you’ll feel hungry again. If transitioning over to whole grains isn’t something you’re willing to do, add lots of vegetables to improve the recipe’s nutritional content and help you stretch a dollar!
- Reduce the added sugars
Yes, yes—you already knew drinking more water is good for you. Reducing the amount of added sugars in your coffee, tea, and drinks is a huge improvement for your health. You can still “have your cake and eat it too” by simply consuming less. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 24g of added sugar per day for women and children and 36g of added sugar per day for men. When it comes to drinking sugar, your brain doesn’t process those calories the same way as when you eat food. Choosing water more often is a huge win! Unfortunately, it is only half the battle. There are lots of added sugars in the foods we consume. Be wary of how many grams of sugar are in pre-flavored yogurts and oatmeal. Instead, flavor the food yourself with fruits and add your own sugar- if you need it. This gives you control of how much sugar goes into the food. Cereals, granola bars, and other packaged breakfast foods are typically loaded with added sugars, so choose these foods less often.
- Change your protein
Dieticians and medical professionals all agree that changing your protein is one of the most impactful dietary decisions you can make. When it comes to animal proteins, we want to choose leaner cuts that have less saturated fat (the white, fatty pieces in and around meats). Choose white meat chicken and poultry and at least ‘93% lean’ ground meats. When it comes to steak, make it a treat and consume less frequently. On the flipside, we should consume more fatty fish and seafood which contains heart-healthy fats and nutrients we tend to lack. Finally, incorporate more beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds into your diet. These foods are packed with protein, naturally low in saturated fats, and contain fiber. Hummus, homemade trail mix, adding beans into your taco filling, or topping salads and stir-fry recipes with chickpeas or garbanzo beans are easy ways (a few of my personal favorites) to eat more of these proteins.
Certainly, these are not the only improvements you can make to ensure a heart-healthy diet, but they are a great starting point. If you are ready to take charge of your health and receive healthy, seasonal recipes, please consider registering for the upcoming healthy eating and cooking series, Fall into the Mediterranean Diet. This 6-week series will begin October 13th and offer weekly education and cooking demonstration sessions intended to make small changes simple to achieve. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this series will be held online. For more information, please visit https://johnston.ces.ncsu.edu/family-and-consumer-sciences-2/available-programs/fall-into-the-mediterranean-diet-healthy-cooking-eating-program/
N.C. Cooperative Extension is a cooperation between N.C. State University, N.C. A.&T. State University, and local county government offering evidence-based information in the areas of food and nutrition, agriculture, and 4-H youth development.