What better time to show your heart some love than during National Heart Month in February. In fact, eating a healthy diet is one of the best ways to do so and can help to reduce your risk for heart disease.

The heart, a muscular organ, is at the center of your body’s well-being. Its job is to supply your body the right amount of blood to the right area at the right time in order to keep all of your systems functioning properly and you feeling well.

Heart health is important for everyone, regardless of age. Heart disease can weaken the heart and cause it to function suboptimally, putting your life at risk. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. Poor diet is one of the greatest risk factors for developing heart disease but is also one that you can control!

When it comes to eating, aim to choose foods that are low in saturated fat, added sugar, salt, and cholesterol as diets high in these nutrients have been shown to increase the risk for heart disease. Instead opt for minimally processed foods that are high in fiber, unsaturated fats and vitamins and minerals; this means lots of fruits and veggies, lean meats, low-fat dairy, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.

Check out these tips for heart healthy food swaps that will help to keep your heart strong and stable.

  • Select poultry, fish, or plant-based protein sources like beans at mealtimes instead of red meat.
  • Reach for vegetable oils, like canola or olive, instead of butter for cooking.
  • Choose low-sodium or no-salt-added canned and frozen vegetables instead of regular versions.
  • Opt for fresh cut veggies with a stick of low-fat mozzarella instead of reaching for the chips or cookies at snack time.
  • Replace a carb-based side like bread, pasta, or a baked potato at dinner time with a veggie heavy salad.
  • Stir up batch of soup yourself and leave the can on the shelf.
  • Choose fruit with yogurt instead of a scoop of ice cream or a piece of cake for dessert.
  • Grab a handful of unsalted nuts for an energy boost instead of a prepackaged energy bar.
  • Opt for whole grains, such as whole wheat bread and brown rice, over their refined white counterparts.
  • Substitute unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana, or low-fat yogurt for butter or oils in baked goods.
  • Drink 1 percent or skim milk instead of 2 percent or whole milk.
  • Reach for water or tea over a can of soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Opt for a sub-sandwich loaded with veggies instead of a burger and fries when you are out and eating on-the-go.

Additional heart health resources

Questions about nutrition?

Health Promotion and Wellness offers free, individual diet analysis and nutrition guidance for those striving to improve their lifestyle. Faculty, staff, and students can meet one-on-one with the Health Promotion and Wellness nutritionist in a confidential setting at no cost.

Participants need to complete a three-day food diary and a health questionnaire available online prior to their nutrition consult. Forms may be returned via email, by campus mail to 2120, by fax to (309) 438-5003, or by hand delivery to the main Health Promotion and Wellness office in 187 McCormick Hall.

Health Promotion and Wellness also provides presentations for campus groups and organizations. Please call our office at (309) 438-WELL (9355) to request this service.