In honor of National Nutrition Month in March, the American Heart Association, AHA, wants to remind families of the many tools available to build healthy lifestyle habits. Through the AHA’s Healthy For Good initiative, individuals can use online tools to choose heart-healthy recipes, build grocery lists, and learn tips on choosing the foods that pack the most nutrition, and how to avoid those that don’t.
According to studies funded by the AHA, 37 percent of Americans think they are in optimal health, but less than 1 percent actually are. The AHA created Healthy For Good to educate and motivate Americans to eat healthier and get active. A healthy diet and lifestyle are your most powerful weapons when fighting the risk factors of heart disease, according to the AHA. Eating smarter, adding more healthy foods like colorful vegetables and fruits, and moving more can mean you’re on the path to living well.
Here are some nutrition and healthy lifestyle tips from the AHA:
- First, use up at least as many calories as you take in. Start by knowing how many calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain your weight. Go to heart.org/myfatstranslator to calculate the number of calories you need to maintain your weight. Increase the amount and intensity of your physical activity to match the number of calories you take in. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. Regular physical activity can help you maintain your weight, keep off weight that you lose, and help you reach physical and cardiovascular fitness.
- Next, eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups. You may be eating plenty of food, but your body may not be getting the nutrients it needs to be healthy. Nutrient-rich foods have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, but are lower in calories. To get the nutrients you need, choose foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grain products and fat-free or low-fat dairy products most often. Unrefined whole grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full, which may help you manage your weight. Eat fish at least twice a week. Recent research shows that eating oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout, and herring) may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease.
Pack up your fruits and veggies on the weekend to make sure you have healthier snacks all week long. Cut up celery, peppers, broccoli and carrots to enjoy as a crunchy snack with fat-free ranch dressing. Round up your favorite fruits and leave them in a bowl on the refrigerator shelf to they’re ready to grab when you’re making your lunch. Top sandwiches with lots of veggies like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, sprouts, red peppers or avocado slices. Make veggies the star of the plate, and meat and whole grain carbs the supporting actors.
- Eat less of the nutrient-poor foods. The right number of calories to eat each day is based on your age and physical activity level and whether you’re trying to gain, lose or maintain your weight. You could use your daily allotment of calories on a few high-calorie foods and beverages, but you probably wouldn’t get the nutrients your body needs to be healthy. Limit foods and beverages high in calories but low in nutrients, and limit saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Read labels carefully—the “Nutrition Facts” panel will tell you how much of those nutrients each food or beverage contains.
Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat. Select fat-free, 1 percent fat and low-fat dairy products. Swapping out high-fat sour cream for fat-free Greek yogurt is a great way to cut fat without cutting taste.
Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet, including store-bought baked goods and crackers. Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day. Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars. Aim to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt, and use low-sodium versions of canned goods, and choose the healthy versions of frozen prepared meals that say “low-sodium.” If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes. For more information on healthy lifestyle habits, visit heart.org/gettinghealthy.