Did you know? Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Because heart disease is preventable, the American Heart Association (AHA) has designated February as National Heart Health month. AHA has identified seven factors that impact health and quality of life. Known as “Life’s Simple Seven,” these steps can help add years to your life: don’t smoke; eat a healthy diet; maintain a healthy weight; engage in regular physical activity; manage blood pressure; take charge of cholesterol, and keep blood sugar (glucose) at healthy levels.

Are you wondering what “eat a healthy diet” means? Read more to learn about the foods you should love and those you may shun.

Love These FoodsVegetables and Fruits: All adults should strive to eat two or more cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit daily. Not only is produce rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but it also contains micronutrients that protect your heart health.

Soluble Fiber: To help lower LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol, ensure you include several servings daily. Cooked barley, steel-cut oats, lentils, beans, apples, blueberries, and ground flax seeds are all excellent sources.

Whole Soy: Soy milk, tofu, canned black soybeans, edamame, and tempeh all contain isoflavones that have been shown to help prevent heart disease by reducing serum LDL cholesterol.

Fatty Fish: Sockeye salmon (fresh, frozen, canned, or smoked), pole-caught tuna packed in fish oil, farmed rainbow trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for human health. Enjoy at least two servings a week.

Nuts: studies show that people who daily eat a small fistful (about one ounce) of nuts have a lower incidence of heart disease than those who don’t. Walnuts are remarkable because of their omega-3 content.

Healthy Fat: Besides heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, extra-virgin olive oil contains antioxidants that help protect our cells from environmental damage. Avocado pulp is even better because it contains fiber. Please see the accompanying recipe for a unique way to use avocado.

Garlic: Raw garlic contains a combination of flavonoids and sulfur molecules that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Chop fresh garlic and let it sit for 10 – 15 minutes to increase the levels of heart-healthy allicin.

Shun TheseAvoid polyunsaturated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, partially hydrogenated oils, and foods containing trans-fatty acids, such as deep-fried foods and packaged snacks.

Avoid highly refined carbohydrates (e.g., white bread, white rice, and most manufactured desserts/snacks), which have been shown to increase chronic systemic inflammation, a root cause of heart disease.

Limit intake of saturated fat found in coconut oil, palm oil, full-fat dairy, fatty cuts of meat, and poultry skin.

Researchers from the University of Sydney have reported that just three to four one-minute bursts of "huffing and puffing" during daily tasks have been linked with large reductions in the risk of early death.

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Nancy Teeter is a Registered Dietitian and a SaddleBrooke resident. Though she is mostly retired, she is passionate about sharing her nutrition knowledge with others. This article should not replace advice from your medical provider. For dietary support, visit