Be kind to your heart when you eat

February is American Heart Month

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February is the month we find stores filled with heart-shaped merchandise to buy for our loved ones, so it is fitting that American Heart Month is also observed during this time. Heart Month is observed to spread awareness about heart disease. Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Wilson County followed by stroke. You can reduce your risk by eating a proper diet and living an active lifestyle.

Living a lifestyle of healthy eating and making sure you get plenty of physical activity doesn’t mean eating flavorless food that leaves you hungry, cutting out bread and carbohydrates or hitting the gym every chance you get. Eating a proper diet means eating lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and plant-based proteins such as beans, nuts and seeds that also give you fiber.

Consuming plenty of fiber and limiting saturated fat are extremely important goals in a heart-healthy diet. When choosing breads, pastas, tortillas and other grains, look for the word “whole” on the label. This indicates that whole grains or whole wheat was used to make the product. Whole grains give you fiber to help aid in digestion and better manage blood pressure and blood sugar that “white” and “enriched” grains do not. Plant-based proteins such as beans, legumes, nuts and seeds give you protein and fiber without the saturated fat that is typically found in meats and animal products.

Because animal products contain saturated fats, the American Heart Association recommends using olive and canola oils for cooking instead of butter, choosing lean cuts of meat and choosing low-fat dairy to reduce saturated fat intake and lower your risk of developing heart disease.

You need fat in your diet, but too much saturated fat can raise your LDL “bad” cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your consumption of saturated fat to 13g per day. It is also recommended to eat more fish and seafood as part of a heart-healthy diet.

The fat found in fish is actually a “healthy fat,” also known as unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats are found in fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, avocados and plant-based oils with the exception of tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil. If you are uncertain, you can always read the nutrition label.

If you do not see unsaturated fats listed, know that saturated fat plus trans fat (which should always read 0g) plus unsaturated fat equals total fat. If you see “monounsaturated fat” and “polyunsaturated fat” on a nutrition label, they are each a type of unsaturated fat. For more information on these fats, visit https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/monounsaturated-fats.

In summary, limiting saturated fat and increasing fiber are important steps in achieving a heart-healthy diet. If you would like more information on cooking and nutrition classes, visit the Wilson County Cooperative Extension website and visit the Family and Consumer Sciences tab. We also update our Facebook page regularly (search Wilson County Cooperative Extension).

For more recipes developed by our N.C. State University Extension Nutrition Specialist, Carolynn Dunn, visit https://medinsteadofmeds.com/category/recipes/.

Enjoy this month’s heart-healthy recipe: Basil, Shrimp and Tomato Pasta — perfect for a Valentine’s Day dinner date in!

Basil, Shrimp and Tomato Pasta with Feta

1 pound whole-wheat penne pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound shrimp, deveined, shells and tails removed

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 pints grape tomatoes, cut in half

4 ounces (approximately ¾ cup) low-fat feta cheese

Cook pasta as directed.

While pasta is cooking, heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to pan.

Sauté shrimp in olive oil until pink.

Add basil and grape tomatoes and sauté for additional 2 minutes until slightly wilted. Turn off heat.

Add feta and stir.

Serve shrimp, basil, tomatoes, and feta over whole wheat pasta.

Med Instead of Meds