February is Heart month in Canada. Here are a few nutritional recommendations that can improve your heart and overall health.
1. Increase consumption of omega 3 fats.
Almost all of us need to increase our consumption of omega 3 fats (fish, fish oil, flax and chia seeds etc.). When it comes to eating fish, the smaller the better. Mercury and other toxins have less of a chance to bio-accumulate in sardines and anchovies, making them a better choice to include in your diet over the more popular salmon, which is often farmed.
While nuts and seeds offer an array of health benefits, it is difficult (but not impossible) to eat enough of these short chain fatty acids for your body to convert them into the healthier long chain fatty acids (EPA and DHA) that fish offer. Even so, include raw, unsalted nuts and seeds in your diet. Aiming for 1-2 tbsp. of ground flax every day is a good place to start. Add it to oatmeal or a smoothie.
Action Tip: To be safe and proactive, it is very healthy for the average adult to consume one-teaspoon daily of quality fish oil that offers at least 1500 mg of omega 3. If you take fish oil capsules, be sure to take enough to get this amount.
Increasing our levels of omega 3’s leads to less inflammation, lowered blood pressure, lower levels of depression, better joint health, brain function, skin health and the list goes on!
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, and do not wish to consume fish oil, there are a few options for you. Look for vegetarian based omega 3’s from echium and algal oils.
2. Decrease consumption of processed foods.
Processed foods generally give us more of the omega 6 fats (safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, sesame, peanut, soy, canola) that we are already too high in as well as excessive sodium levels. The average person is consuming 20 to 50 times more omega 6 than omega 3 and this should be closer to a 4:1 ratio or even 1:1!
Action Tip: Start by throwing out all your bottled salad dressing (you are having fresh greens every day, right?) and make your own. Store bought salad dressings use cheap ingredients that are troublesome on several levels. Make your own with flaxseed oil, olive oil, nut and seed butters or avocados. You can puree an avocado in a blender and add your other ingredients like lemon or raw apple cider vinegar etc. This will give you better quality fats, lower sodium levels and eliminate things like artificial flavours and MSG.
3. Decrease sugar consumption (especially white).
In addition to fat, sugar plays a significant role in heart health. Sugar contributes to high cholesterol levels, inflammation and weight gain. With a reduction in processed foods, sugar levels should naturally come down. It would be best for us to curtail our appetite and desire for sweets, but that isn’t easy to change over night.
Action Tip: If you consume soda, start by decreasing your consumption and substitute with drinks like Zevia, which is sweetened with stevia. You can also sweeten soda water or plain water with flavoured liquid stevia. There are many different flavours available and it mixes easily in other liquids. Look for it in the natural health section of your grocery store or at a health store.
For juice drinkers, dilute juice 50/50 with water. Remember it is best to eat your calories, not drink them! In time, most people find their taste buds have increased sensitivity to sweetness and can be satisfied with less.
4. Sauté foods in water, broth or wine.
Action Tip: Add olive oil for flavour after most of the cooking has been done. You can also sauté in high smoke point oils such as coconut oil and/or ghee (clairified butter).