February is a Heart Health Month, making it the perfect time to find ways to re-think what we eat in order to help lead us to better heart health. It’s an issue that most of us need to pay attention to, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. In fact, each year there are around 610,000 people who die from heart disease, accounting for 1 in every 4 deaths. Further, each year there are around 735,000 Americans who have a heart attack. The good news is that there are things we can do to help reduce our heart disease risk, with what we eat playing an important role.

“Considering how many times per day and week that we eat, it’s important to consider our food choices,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project. “This is especially true when it comes to our children, because their bodies are developing and they are learning habits that may last a lifetime.”

According to the CDC, some of the risk factors for heart disease include diabetes, being overweight or obese, having a poor diet, being physically inactive, and using alcohol excessively. Improving the diet is likely to also help with the weight and diabetes issues. Here are some tips for helping to re-think your eating for better heart health:

  • Breakfast. Reach for whole grain toast, whole grain cereals and don’t forget a serving of vegetables and/or fruit. To get in even more servings, try a quick and healthy fruit and veggie smoothie, like the “Green Dragon Smoothie” featured on doctoryum.org.
  • Lunch. Pack a quick and healthy lunch that includes items like salads, hummus and veggies, tuna salad with wholegrain crackers or bread, or homemade low-sodium soups that you can make ahead of time and take a couple of days in a row. The “Meal Maker Machine” on doctoryum.org has a “Souper Soup recipe” that allows you to customize a soup recipe using ingredients on hand.
  • Dinner. Opt for seafood, which has heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Other good options include beans, salads with dressing, quinoa, whole grains, veggie burgers, chickpeas, lentils, and filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Try to reduce processed foods, and fast food (which is often loaded with sugar and salt), high sodium foods, and unhealthy oils by cooking more at home.
  • Snacks. Skip the chips and cakes and opt for food like unsalted nuts, fruits and veggies, seeds, rice cakes, bell pepper slices, vegetables and hummus, or whole grain toast with all natural peanut butter.
  • Drinks. Leave the sugary drinks behind, and opt for water, sparkling water, plain soymilk, unsweetened coffee and tea, or water steeped with fruit.
  • Dining out. When dining out, opt for dishes that are lower in sodium and fat content, such as those that are baked, grilled, or broiled, rather than ones that are fried. Minimize the sugar intake by opting for unsweetened beverages and sticking to mostly fruits for sugar cravings. Choose seafood, fish, lean meats, vegetarian options, vegetable dishes, and beans. Portion sizes for restaurant meals tend to be oversized, so box a portion of your meal for lunch the next day.

“Heart healthy foods are all around us, it’s just a matter of opting for them over the other ones that are also available. Common barriers to eating healthy are cost, convenience and taste. By following the 3 P’s (prep, plan and prioritize) these barriers can be overcome” adds Dr. Fernando. “With some initial effort, we can all focus on eating healthier and feeding our children better. The more people make changes and stick to them, the more it will become a more natural habit.”