JEFF TIEDEMAN: Heart healthy diet allows a little dark chocolateStudies show dark chocolate is good for the ticker.
Did you know that February is American Heart Month?
I’m guessing that quite a few people did. But for as many of those who were aware of this, I bet there are even more who didn’t have the faintest clue.
That’s too bad, since heart disease, including stroke, is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States.
I’m one of the people who “celebrate” this observance, having survived a stroke in 1993.
And it’s only because I’ve followed recommendations of the American Heart Association, including the obvious ones such as watching my weight, quitting smoking, controlling my cholesterol and blood pressure and eating healthy.
Each one presented a different challenge. But perhaps the toughest was to eat healthy. It’s not easy change eating habits, knowing which foods to eat more of and which ones to limit. (There are numerous resources available for this on the Web, including www.mayoclinic.com, www.choosemyplate.gov, www.mhlbi.nih.gov and www.heart.org. Local dietitians also are a good source.)
For example, here are eight steps toward heart-healthy eating from the Mayo’s website:
— 1. Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol. According to the AHA, less than 7 percent of total daily calories should come from saturated fat; less than 1 percent from trans fat and less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol for healthy adults and less than 200 milligrams for adults with high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
— 2. Choose low-fat protein sources such as lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, egg whites or egg substitutes and legumes. Choose lower-fat options, such as skim milk rather than whole milk and skinless chicken breasts rather than fried chicken patties. Also, certain types of fish (salmon, mackerel, herring) contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats called triglycerides.
— 3. Eat more vegetables and fruits, good sources of vitamins and minerals that are low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits also contain substances found in plants that may help prevent heart disease.
— 4. Select whole grains, another good source of fiber and nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health.
— 5. Reduce sodium use, which can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day and people age 51 or older, African-Americans and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease have no more than 1,500 milligrams a day.
— 6. Control your portion size. Don’t overload your plate, take seconds or eat until you feel stuffed. Keep track of the servings you eat and use proper serving sizes to help control portions. (One serving of pasta is ½ cup. A serving of meat, fish or chicken is 2 to 3 ounces, the size and thickness of a deck of cards.
— 7. Plan ahead: Create daily menus using the six strategies listed above.
— 8. Allow yourself an occasional treat every now and then. But don’t let it turn into an excuse for giving up on your healthy-eating plan.
My favorite treat is dark chocolate, which also has been shown to be good for your heart. A small bar of it daily can lower blood pressure and also reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 10 percent.
For me, that’s a cause for celebration.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.