Love Your Heart

Each year the American Heart Association celebrates February as American Heart Month, a reminder that taking care of your heart gives you a better chance to live a healthy, fulfilling life. Take this message as a challenge to be aware of your risks and to develop a mindset of improving food choices and talking yourself into being more active. Taking action now can give you more healthy years and a longer fulfilling life.

Heart disease (atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease – ASCVD) is the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women. One in four people will die from heart disease. Women: take notice. Your risk is just as great as a man’s and symptoms are somewhat different. Many women don’t think about heart disease because they think of it as a man’s disease and may ignore symptoms. After menopause heart disease risk increases.

Since the 1970’s we’ve seen a significant decline in death from heart disease with people living longer. Thankfully progress in medications and medical management have improved care by targeting prevention and treatment. However, recently the decline in heart disease deaths has leveled off indicating other factors, especially obesity, may interfere with heart health. Having diabetes, especially poorly managed diabetes, dramatically increases the seriousness of heart disease.

Fortunately, healthy eating to reverse heart disease is about the same as a healthy eating plan for managing diabetes, preventing cancer, and losing weight. Changing how one eats is easy to say, but hard to do

Changing any habit, especially when it comes to changing food habits, takes serious thinking, planning, and determination. It must be a strong “want” to change rather than a wimpy I “should”. A “want” has much more power.

As a dietitian-nutritionist, my most successful patients are ones with a strong “want to” mindset to achieve better health. They start habit changes with little stumbles and resistance along the way, but their desire strengthens and builds with successful small steps. It’s a slow, fierce battle with self and old habits. I call it working the three “Ps”: perseverance, persistence, and patience.

One patient I work with has set such positive examples with healthy eating and activity, that his work colleagues and family are beginning to make their own healthy changes. He looks better and feels better with weight loss and is now confidently in charge of his lifestyle.

The American Heart Association suggests these healthy eating steps. 

  • Eat a variety of fresh, frozen and canned vegetables and fruits without high-calorie sauces or added salt and sugars. Replace high-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings.
  • Choose poultry and fish without skin and prepare them in healthy ways without added saturated and trans- fat. If you choose to eat meat, look for the leanest cuts available and prepare them in healthy and delicious ways.
  • Eat a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout and herring).
  • Select fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products.
  • Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans-fat in your diet.
  • Limit saturated fat and trans-fat and replace them with the better fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. If you need to lower your blood cholesterol, reduce saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of total calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 13 grams of saturated fat.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Choose foods with less sodium and prepare foods with little or no salt. To lower blood pressure, aim to eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Reducing daily intake to 1,500 mg is desirable because it can lower blood pressure even further. If you can’t meet these goals right now, even reducing sodium intake by 1,000 mg per day can benefit blood pressure.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and no more than two drinks per day if you’re a man.

Also consider other similar diet approaches.

Mediterranean Diet:

Whole Food Plant Based Diet:

Heart History: Let me digress to a little history about how the heart became a symbol of love. A real heart is not the lovely shape of a heart that we know as an icon of love and caring and Valentine’s Day. The familiar heart shape symbol first appeared in 1344 in a medieval picture book and manuscript titled The Romance of Alexander. The image depicts a woman holding a heart (as we know it) that she received from the man across from her. He touches is breast to show where the heart symbolically comes from.  If you have known passionate love, you know the heart literally flutters with joy. The ancient Greeks called this “eros”- passionate and romantic love.


Learn CPR. For information go to the American Heart Association for information about a way to become certified.

Know Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack. Women have slightly different symptoms. Be aware of those.


Pan-Grilled Zucchini

Cut ends off 2 zucchini and slice lengthwise. Lightly salt and pepper each cut side. Over medium heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. When the skillet is hot, add the slices cut side down to gently brown. Turn slices several times during cooking. Cook until zucchini is tender. Try garlic salt or other seasonings for interest.

Servings: 2 or 4

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.