In honor of National Heart Month, Vetri Community Partnership’s Nutritionist, Tara Bledsoe,  joins us for a quick Q&A about heart health!

What foods are good for the heart?
Following a healthy eating pattern that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, plant-based proteins, and non-tropical vegetable oils can help lower your risk for heart disease. Eating a variety of foods from all of the food groups not only makes sure you are getting enough heart-healthy fiber that can lower your cholesterol, but also provides you with potassium. Potassium is an important mineral that our bodies need to help relax blood vessel walls and lower blood pressure.  

What is sodium?
Sodium is an essential nutrient, which means that we need to take in some sodium for our bodies to function. The majority of the sodium we eat comes from sodium chloride, otherwise known as salt. Sodium is used in our bodies to control fluid balance, and helps our muscles and nerves work. 

How does sodium affect heart health?
When we have too much sodium in our blood, water moves into our blood vessels to keep us in balance. This increases the volume of blood moving through our blood vessels, which increases our blood pressure. In turn, our heart must work harder to pump blood throughout the body. When we regularly eat high-sodium foods, we increase our likelihood for high blood pressure and, over time, harming our heart. 

How can I decrease sodium in my diet? Any substitutions?
Recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that people 14 years and older should not consume more than 2300 mg of sodium per day. However, Americans typically consume about 3400 mg/day. This means that most of us need to focus on ways to decrease sodium in our diet. One suggestion is to limit processed and prepared foods, which are often high in sodium due to added salt. Use the nutrition facts label to help you choose options with lower sodium. Also, cook more meals at home, focusing on ingredients that are naturally low in sodium, such as fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; fresh meats, poultry, and seafood; eggs, grains, dry beans, and yogurt. Lastly, shake up your flavor game with spices and herbs rather than the salt shaker. 

What activities are good for a strong/healthy heart?
Moving more and sitting less is key for living a healthy life. To build a strong, healthy heart, we need to get our heart pumping. Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorousintensity aerobic activity per week, while kids 6 to 17 years of age need at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Families can get active together by making their morning walk a race, dancing in the kitchen while dinner is cooking, or taking a bike ride. No matter what activities you choose, just get moving!  

Are there any fats that are good for the heart?
Fats are an important part of a healthy eating pattern. The recommendation is to choose unsaturated fats more often and limit saturated fats to less than 10% of daily calories. Unsaturated fats provide heart-healthy benefits that can lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels. For cooking and dressings, choose oils that are lower in saturated fat, such as avocado, canola, olive, safflower, sesame, soybean, and sunflower oils. Nuts and seeds are naturally packed with unsaturated fats, but remember to  choose  unsalted versions to lower sodium intake. Fatty fish, such as albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, and salmon, provide omega-3 polyunsaturated fats which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Adding avocado to your diet also provides a great source of unsaturated fat.