Healthy Habits, Healthy Heart

Article Written By: Jen Scharffer, MBA, RDN, LD, CD, Director of Tri-State Wellness

As we recognize Heart Health Month this February, it is a good time to review the current nutrition guidelines for optimal heart health. Research has yet to prove that there is one particular nutrient that is “the magic bullet” for preventing or managing heart disease. However, we know that one’s eating pattern can certainly influence the status of their health. Eating a balanced diet by incorporating various food groups can be easy, customizable, healthy, and enjoyable! Dietary guidance provided by the American Heart Association identifies the following simple and sustainable practices.

  1. Focus on energy balance by adjusting calories to meet individual needs for maintaining a healthy weight. Reducing caloric intake can be achieved by decreasing portion size and choosing less processed foods with added calories.
  2. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, incorporating a variety of produce. Use different colors and classes like dark leafy greens (ie. spinach) and cruciferous vegetables (ie. Cauliflower). When produce is out of season, using frozen fruits and vegetables is a great way to access vital nutrients year-round.
  3. Use whole grain food products instead of refined grains. Oatmeal is a whole grain and provides fiber, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and B Vitamins. Alternatively, a refined grain product like a doughnut only provides short-term energy. Whole grains also have a positive impact on gut health. Look for the words “100% whole grain” on food labels or “whole grain ____” in the beginning of an ingredient list.
  4. Making a shift to incorporate healthy proteins in place of meat at times poses some benefit.
    1. Use more plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, seeds, and nuts. This allows us to reduce the amount of saturated fat that we get from animal products, while gaining more fiber.
    2. Replace meat with fish a couple times each week to get more of those highly sought-after anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids.
    3. Use low-fat and fat free dairy products to cut down on cholesterol-building saturated fat.
    4. When using poultry, choose leaner cuts (ie. skinless chicken breast) and less processed forms, such as breaded, deep-fried chicken nuggets.
  5. Prepare foods with unsaturated fats like olive, canola, peanut, and avocado oils. Limit butter, stick margarine, and tropical oils that have saturated and/or trans-fats.
  6. Use more whole foods instead of “ultra-processed” foods. Eating a baked potato instead of French fries has cardiovascular benefits.
  7. Limit intake of beverages and foods with added sugars. Identify added sugar products by looking at the ingredient list on the Nutrition Facts Label. Any of the following is a form of added sugar: sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose, molasses, cane sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, and concentrated fruit juice.
  8. Choose foods with little added salt or make it from scratch! Using other sources of flavoring, such as, low sodium vegetable stock, herbs, no-salt spice blends, and vinegar can help reduce fluid retention and may help to improve your blood pressure. Most sodium in the typical American diet comes from processed foods and so taking away the saltshaker may not be the only change necessary.
  9. Drink alcohol in moderation, or not at all.
  10. Follow these guidelines in all aspects of your life, whether eating socially, at a restaurant, packing a lunch, or eating at home.

Overall, your eating pattern is the whole “heart of the matter”!

Tri-State Wellness consists of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN), a nurse Diabetes Educator, and a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (RN, CDCES). RDN’s are trained to assist with your nutrition needs. The Diabetes Educator and Diabetes Care and Education Specialist assists in providing the right information and support necessary to make diabetes self-care very manageable in your everyday life. Learn more about services provided by Tri-State Wellness at or call 509.751.0229.