February marks the 59th American Heart Month, “a time to pay special attention to understanding, preventing and treating heart disease – the leading cause of death in the nation,” in the words of the American Heart Association (AHA). Eating healthy is among the many heart-healthy habits promoted to help prevent heart disease and stroke.
AHA guidelines suggest eating “mostly plants such as legumes and nuts; fish and seafood; low-fat or nonfat dairy.” As part of a heart-healthy diet, they say that “omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of heart failure, coronary heart disease, cardiac arrest, and the most common type of stroke.”
Choosing Protein Sources
This is why AHA zeroes in on which foods we choose as protein sources, because fat and fiber content of protein foods varies widely. Among plant-based foods, beans, peas, lentils, and nuts gain top billing for low-fat protein and contributions of heart-healthy fiber to the diet.
Among animal foods, the AHA suggests reducing red meats, which are higher in saturated fats. Instead, they emphasize choosing chicken without the skin and fatty fish. Fish has the added benefit of providing omega-3 fatty acids. They also opt for low-fat or nonfat dairy products, such as yogurt.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They’ve been proven to help stabilize heart rhythms, lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, improve blood vessel function, and lower blood triglycerides, explains Harvard Health. Omega-3s can also reduce inflammation throughout the body, which is important because atherosclerosis is influenced by inflammation.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the two key omega-3 fatty acids, and the primary food source for them is fatty fish—salmon, tuna, trout, anchovies, mackerel, halibut, cod, and others. Clams, mussels, and oysters are also sources of omega-3s. EPA and DHA are dubbed “marine omega-3s”.
Another type of omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in walnuts, flax seeds, vegetable oils, and some meat and dairy products. Conversion from ALA to the forms we need is very limited in the body, which is why the marine omega-3s receive much more emphasis.
Eat More Fish
“Almost half of all Americans eat little to no seafood,” according to Seafood Source. Couple that news with the finding that 90% of Americans undereat fruits and vegetables, according to CDC data. The AHA recommends eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to optimize heart health.
The Mediterranean Diet is an example of an evidence-based eating plan that lowers the risk of heart disease, while promoting overall wellness. It’s a plant-forward diet, high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It favors seafood, high in omega 3s, and extra virgin olive oil, while limiting dairy fat and red meat.
There is good news this year as we observe American Heart Month: We can fight the proliferation of heart disease with simple changes to eating, including plenty of seafood. Healthy eating is not an all-or-nothing endeavor, says the AHA. It’s a series of small choices. Some may become habits!
To promote American Health Month in your foodservice operation, check out the Super Foods infographic and the 10 Ways to Improve Your Heart Health infographic from AHA.
You can also download social media messages and graphics from the Million Hearts® campaign. See all the heart disease prevention guidelines on the AHA website.
Experts agree we can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke with a series of lifestyle choices. Show some love to your customers this month and help promote heart health.