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Published on February 21, 2024

Healthy Tips: American Heart Month

Video Transcript

Hi, everyone, my name is Lexi Wright and I'm a dietitian at the Owensboro Health Healthpark. Each February, we recognize American Heart Month. According to the CDC, heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States since 1950. So this February, let's really lean into making heart-smart choices by focusing on flavoring and cooking our foods in some healthy ways.

Let's talk about low-sodium cooking first. A diet high in sodium can increase our risk for high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. And surprisingly, we actually get most of the sodium in our diet from processed foods that we buy rather than salt that we add at the table.

Now that's not to say that we have to eliminate processed foods. That will never happen. We're always going to have some of those, but we do want to try to look at labels to make the healthiest choice possible. When choosing foods that are boxed, canned, or bagged, we can look for labels that say things like, "low sodium," "light sodium," or "no salt added."

We can also always look for a nutrition facts label. If you find the sodium line on the label, off to the right, there will be a percentage. 5% or less means low sodium, and 20% or more means high sodium. As far as low-sodium flavorings go, we really want to focus on individual herbs and spices, things like onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and dried oregano.

We can combine different individual herbs and spices together to make some homemade seasoning blends that are probably going to be a lot lower in sodium than what you could buy at the store. Beyond herbs and spices, we can also flavor foods with things like onions, garlic, lemon juice, lime juice, and even different kinds of vinegars.

Next, let's talk fat. Fats that are solid at room temperature, things like butter, shortening, and grease, they tend to be pretty high in saturated fat, which is the kind that's not great for our heart and can raise our cholesterol. So instead of greasing pans with butter or shortening, we can try using some nonstick cooking spray or some heart-healthy oil.

To help foods caramelize and brown, we can brush them or spray them with some heart-healthy oil as well. Some great examples are olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil. To keep proteins tender without adding extra fat, we can cook them to the minimum recommended internal temperature for that kind of protein and we can even let them rest for around five to 15 minutes before we cut them so that they hold on to their juices.

Finally, let's finish with fiber. A diet high in fiber can help us manage our weight by keeping us full and satisfied throughout the day. It can also help reduce our risk of heart disease by helping us manage our cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

We can increase fiber in our cooking by choosing the whole-grain versions of foods. For example, we can try a whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or quinoa. If you're ever not sure if a food is a whole grain or not, you can always look at the ingredients list. If you see the word "whole" in one of the first couple of ingredients on that list, you know it's a whole grain.

Fruits and veggies are also a really good source of fiber. Try to leave the skins and peels on if you can because that's where most of the fiber is. Canned or frozen veggies can be a great addition to soups and casseroles. In fact, if you don't really like eating a veggie on the side of your meal, I recommend trying to find ways to incorporate it into the meal, such as doing chicken fajitas with peppers and onions or a stir fry with lots of veggies.

You can even sneak veggies into pasta sauces and smoothies. Some examples of ones you might want to try are spinach, zucchini, or carrots. No matter what, if you try a veggie for the first time and you don't care for it, don't be afraid to be open-minded and try it again. How you cook and season your veggies make such a big difference in how they taste. Overall, I hope these tips empower you all to eat heart-smart this February. Happy American Heart Month.

About Owensboro Health

Owensboro Health is a nonprofit health system with a mission to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities it serves in Kentucky and Indiana. The system includes Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, nationally recognized for design, architecture and engineering; Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital; Owensboro Health Twin Lakes Medical Center; the Owensboro Health Medical Group comprised of over 350 providers at more than 30 locations; three outpatient Healthplex facilities, a certified medical fitness facility, the Healthpark; a weight management program, and the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center.

On average each year, we have more than 19,000 inpatient admissions, deliver 2,000 babies and provide the region’s only Level III NICU. Owensboro Health physicians perform nearly 33,000 surgical procedures, including nearly 150 open-heart surgeries. Our physicians and staff have 90,000 Emergency Department visits and more than 1.25 million outpatient visits annually. Visit our home page for more information.