The month of February is associated with romance and love.
We celebrate Valentine’s Day by sending cards, flowers, and candy (yes, candy) to loved ones. February is also an American heart month. If you have diabetes, this can be a good reminder to think about your heart and its health.
Your heart is the workhorse in your body. On average, it strikes 4,800 times an hour, which is roughly 115,200 strikes per day for your life. I can’t think of an artificial machine that matches the capacity of your heart.
However, if you have diabetes, you are at greater risk of heart problems. People with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease as people without diabetes. They are also more likely to develop heart disease and die from heart disease at a younger age.
Elevated glucose levels are part of that risk, but people with diabetes also tend to have problems with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and insulin resistance, all of which increase the risk of heart disease.
The good news is that you can reduce your risk of heart disease. No wonder lifestyle can have a huge impact on your risk. If you are physically active, eat healthily, and don’t smoke, you reduce your risk of heart disease.
It’s important to work with your provider to make sure your glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure are being well managed. While lifestyle interventions are the backbone of prevention, some people may still need the help of medication to meet glucose, lipid, and blood pressure goals.
Let’s discuss a few ways you can make your nutritional heart healthier:
1. Focus on heart healthy fats. Extra virgin olive oil is my choice in this category. Olive oil is primarily a monounsaturated fat that is heart healthy. Extra virgin oil that is minimally processed contains many more healthy polyphenols that help reduce inflammation.
2. Eat a serving of fatty fish at least twice a week. While the word fat doesn’t sound heart-healthy, it is in this case. Oily fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are high in omega-3 fats, which are good for your heart.
3. Include a small serving of nuts or nut butter in your diet every day. Studies have shown that eating 1 ounce of nuts / day can reduce your risk of heart disease. One ounce in a small handful. You don’t have to eat the whole glass.
4. Eat lots of vegetables. Vegetables are full of essential heart nutrients. Work on including as many vegetables as possible. The more varied, the more nutrients you absorb overall.
5. Eat fresh fruit. Fruits, especially berries, provide important heart nutrients. While people with diabetes don’t want to overdo fruit because of its natural sugar content, 2-3 moderate servings of fruit per day are appropriate.
6. Choose lean meat and include one “meatless” day in your diet each week. Research shows that people who eat more plant-based diets have a lower risk of heart disease.
7. Include more whole grains (brown rice, oats, and whole grain bread) and legumes (beans and lentils) in your diet. The nutrients and fiber in these products will benefit your heart.
People tend to think that eating a diabetic / heart healthy meal plan is boring and tasteless, but it doesn’t have to be! Here is a simple but delicious recipe that includes nuts, olive oil, and fruits.
WALNUT BROCCOLI APPLE SLAW
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
½ teaspoon of ground ginger
½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 bag of broccoli coleslaw (approx. 4 cups)
1 large apple, cut into bite-sized pieces
Whisk the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss them well. Refrigerate.
Per serving: Calories: 200; Fat: 14 g; Carbohydrates: 20 g; Fiber: 3 g; Sodium: 114 mg.
Melissa Gaither is a registered nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist, providing nutritional advice as well as diabetes education and support. Melissa works with patients at health parks in Madisonville and Ohio Counties. She is also a certified lifestyle coach for the diabetes prevention program. She helps with the diabetes support group and cooking programs for the public. Melissa is very passionate about what she does and wants to help people with diabetes enjoy life to the fullest.