With February being American Heart Month, we’re focusing on things we can do to maintain (or even increase) our overall heart health. Eating “heart healthy”, good quality foods is one of the smartest choices we can make, but it can be challenging when on a budget or limited income.

How does what we eat make a difference?

Studies starting in the 1960s and 1970s were the first to truly link diet with cardiovascular health. One of the major factors is that that eating heart healthy can lower cholesterol. While a certain amount of cholesterol is good and crucial for our bodies, many of us live with higher levels than is healthy. High cholesterol can lead to fatty build-ups in our arteries, which can clog them and make them less flexible. With obstructed arteries, there is less blood that can travel throughout the body and to and from the heart.

What does eating “heart healthy” mean?

According to The Mayo Clinic, these 8 steps can help you manage or even prevent heart disease:

Controlling portion size. Eating smaller, controlled portions will help to manage weight (which also contributes to heart health) and it will be easier to keep track of the correct amount of servings of the food groups needed for optimum health. This article is helpful in understanding what is a “serving size”.

Eating more fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables is the most direct way to get the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. They are also filling, so you’ll feel the need to eat less of ‘less healthy’ foods. Look for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and avoid ones prepackages with sauces or syrups.

Choosing whole grains. When choosing grains (breads, pastas, rice and oats), many nutritionists recommend “avoiding white foods”. If a starch is white, it most often means it’s been bleached, processed, sugars have been added to it and much of the nutritional value is gone. A better choice is to go for whole wheat or “dark” breads, brown rice, or quinoa.

Understanding and limiting unhealthy fats. There are two types of fats found in foods. Trans fats (bad) and saturated fats (not bad, but should be limited). Look at the labels when you’re buying foods and avoid those that list as trans fats.

Have a peek here for a better understanding of the difference between the two.

Consuming low-fat proteins. Look for chicken, fish, pork, dairy, beans and legumes. Legumes (beans, peas, lentils) are a terrific source of protein!

Reducing salt intake. It’s commonly known that too much salt can increase blood pressure, which is a contributor to heart disease. Lowering salt intake is one of the easiest steps we can take to have a heart healthy diet.

Planning ahead. When we meal plan and prepare snacks and meals ahead of time, we’re less likely to be rushed and just grab any kind of food to satisfy our hunger. Making healthy snacks and meals ahead helps us to make better choices and when it’s time to eat, we have healthy food already prepared. Especially when there are only one or two people in the home, it’s easy to cook a large healthy meal and portion some of it into the freezer for another day.

Indulging in the occasional treat. We all have our favorite treat or snack and those are okay. But if they become the “norm” rather than the exception, then we’ve wandered into dangerous territory. Savor your favorite “unhealthy” items infrequently.

Budget-friendly ways to eat heart healthy

Plan ahead. As mentioned, planning ahead is one of the smartest ways to avoid eating poorly. But even smarter, when we meal plan, make proper grocery lists and cook ahead, we’re more in control of our choices than when we land at the grocery store hungry.

Frozen fruits and vegetables. Often frozen fruits and vegetables are cheaper than fresh and are just as good in quality. They also keep longer, so there is less waste if you don’t eat them all right away.

Cook ‘in-home’ more often. You can have delicious, restaurant-quality meals, without having a personal chef or breaking the bank. Have a look here for some very simple and budget friendly heart healthy recipes. 

Bigger might be better. Along with meal planning, consider utilizing larger items, such as a roasted chicken, into a few different meals.

Avoid “convenience” foods. Prepackaged meals or foods are generally higher in sodium and fats than if you were to cook it yourself. In addition, they’re generally much more expensive.

Shop smart. Know what grocery stores have discount on different items. Perhaps your local farmer’s market has better prices and fresher vegetables or bread than the supermarket. Use coupons and take advantage of senior’s discounts when available.

Alternate proteins. Many of us just think of meat when we think of proteins. But choosing alternatives, such as canned tuna (in water), beans, legumes (like lentils), sardines and canned chicken or turkey is ofetn cheaper than heading to the meat section of the grocery store.

Wrap Up

Eating heart healthy doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Planning ahead, being educated and making better choices will not only be wiser for your health, but for your budget!

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