February is a big month for our tickers. Not only do we celebrate what gets them all aflutter on the 14th, but the whole month is American Heart Month, a time to promote awareness for heart health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four people die from heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. While these statistics are pretty grim, there is good news is: We have the power to prevent heart disease through lifestyle choices that include healthy eating and exercise.
With that in mind, American Heart Month is the perfect time to focus on increasing your fiber intake. Fiber is one of our heart’s biggest dietary protectors. According to the American Heart Association, having a diet high in fiber (25 grams daily for a 2,000 calorie diet), can improve blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Follow these simple steps to a fiber-full life:
Choose whole grains over refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain—the bran, germ and endosperm—while refined grains lose their fiber content and other nutrients like Vitamin B when ground into flour or meal. Great whole grain choices include whole or cracked wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, millet and quinoa. Note: Opt for food choices that list these grains first in the nutritional panel to pump up the nutritional punch.
Look for this stamp of approval. While scanning the aisles, a good sign to look for is the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark. It’s a clear indication of heart-healthy foods with good fiber content.
Replace this with that. There are easy ways to incorporate fiber into your regular meals with these swaps. Start your day with whole grain cereal instead of the sugary ones. Make your sandwiches with whole wheat bread instead of white. Choose whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta. Grab whole wheat tortillas instead of flour. Use brown or wild rice as a side with dinner instead of white. These are super simple alternatives that are both tasty and nutritious.
Try beans, beans, the magical fruit. Beans are an incredible dietary source of fiber and can be integrated into many meal choices. Mix with corn and veggies for a summer salad, try a hearty bean chili in the winter or enjoy a beans and rice dish. Want the benefits of beans without the work of cooking? try our Nutrisystem favorite, Chicken & BBQ Baked Beans, for dinner.
Jack it up with toppings. Enhance your meal or snack with a dose of fiber. Top yogurt with fruits like banana and mango, oats, flax seed and chia seeds. Upgrade that leafy green salad with sunflower seeds, apple slices, berries or shaved almonds. Fruit, veggies and nuts can be great on their own, too. As far as fiber goes, the snack-abilities are endless!