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February is Heart Month and part of this celebration calls for promoting healthy changes that can lead to a heart-healthy lifestyle. One of the most important choices we can all make is about the food we choose to prepare, eat, and serve to our families.

Holly Dykstra, Registered Dietitian at Spectrum Health, talks about healthy eating for heart health and Spectrum Health’s preventive cardiology program.

The Spectrum Health Preventive Cardiology is a multidisciplinary program that includes a cardiologist, APP, psychologist, and other healthcare professionals. Overall, the program aims to engage healthcare professionals and community members in the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle, which includes food as a tool to achieve optimal health.

Armed with expertise in behavior change, mindfulness, plant-based nutrition, obesity, and chronic disease management, the Culinary Medicine team is dedicated to changing and elevating the current conversation about nutrition. This includes removing the distractions of fad diets and focusing on the hard science of a well-balanced diet.

Recent studies show that for adults, young and old, a nutritious plant-based diet can reduce the risk of heart attack and other types of cardiovascular disease.

It has been shown that those who eat a more beneficial, plant-centered diet, with fewer foods considered undesirable, are 50% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease as they age. Based on what is known about their link to cardiovascular disease risk, foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains are considered beneficial. A healthy diet can impact whether or not you develop high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, or metabolic disorders, all of which have links to heart disease.

Here are some other heart-healthy foods:

  • All fish are good for you, but oilier fish are especially good.
  • Salmon, white fish, mackerel and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Omega-3s can lower your triglycerides and lower your blood pressure, and they have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, whatever your taste, beans are packed with goodness; dried beans are ideal, but even canned beans without salt are good.
  • You still get fiber, the bean’s best material, and plenty of B vitamins and iron. Beans are also a source of vegetable protein.
  • Whole grains: If you buy bread or pasta, look for the first ingredient on the bag. If it’s labeled enriched, ignore it. If it’s “whole grain” or “whole wheat,” buy it.
  • Ultra-dark fruits and vegetables: Dark leafy greens like kale, swiss chard, and spinach contain lots of fiber and antioxidant properties, and they’re an excellent source of iron, magnesium, and vitamins like A , K and C, the latter is particularly important for cardiovascular health.
  • Berries are especially good for heart health: blackberries, raspberries, blueberries. They contain antioxidants and tons of fiber compared to other fruits, and they are low in calories.
  • Leaner meats: Skinless poultry should be your first choice for lean meats as a source of protein, but red meats are fine in moderation.
  • Beware of hidden sugars, sodium, coconut oil.

Individuals may be candidates for the preventive cardiology program if they have any of the following:

  • Known heart disease
  • Multiple risk factors for heart disease
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Stress management
  • Eating disorders
  • Nutrition therapy
  • Women’s Cardiovascular Health
  • Difficulty controlling high blood pressure or cholesterol levels

To learn more, visit: Spectrum Health Preventive Cardiology