Thoughts of chocolates, flowers and romance are in the air as Valentine's Day approaches. February appropriately is also Heart Health Month which should help get us thinking about more long-term gifts for the special "Valentines" in our lives.

Adopting a healthier eating pattern helps decrease the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease. So what exactly is a healthy eating pattern? A healthy eating pattern is a combination of foods and drinks that you eat over time.

Raspberries

The recently released 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include the following heart healthy eating pattern recommendations:

  1. Eat a variety of vegetables - dark green, red, orange, legumes, starchy and other vegetables.
  2. Eat fruit, especially whole fruit.
  3. Include grains and make at least half whole grains.
  4. Choose fat -free or low-fat dairy.
  5. Choose from a variety of protein foods including seafood, poultry, lean meats, eggs, soy products, legumes, nuts.
  6. Include healthy oils from plant sources such as canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower. Nuts, seeds, olives, seafood and avocados also provide healthy fat sources.
  7. Limit saturated and Trans fats to less than 10% of your calories. To limit saturated fats cut back on butter, whole milk, meats that are not labeled as lean and those with visible marbling, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil. Saturated fats should be replaced with unsaturated fats, such as canola or olive oil. Tran's fat is made through a process called hydrogenation and found in icings, margarines, microwave popcorn, cakes, cookies, and crackers.
  8. Limit added sugars to less than 10% of total calories. Added sugars include sugars and syrups that are added to food and beverages during preparation and processing. Evidence suggest eating patterns with less added sugar reduce the risk of heart disease
  9. Sodium should be limited to no more than 2300 mg for children over 14 years old and adults. The majority of sodium in our diet comes from processed foods. Canned soups, pasta dishes, pizza, cheese, and cured meats are a few favorites in the American diet that boost sodium intake.

Common Foods Containing Saturated Fats

Beef fat

Chicken fat

Cream

Butter

Coconut oil

Hydrogenated oils

Palm and palm kernel oils

Partially hydrogenated oils

Shortening

Pork fat

Milk fat

Stick margarine


What about cholesterol? 

Although the new dietary guidelines do not recommend a daily cholesterol limit, it does recommend eating the least amount of cholesterol possible. Dietary cholesterol doesn't affect blood cholesterol like saturated fat does. Reducing dietary cholesterol alone will have little impact on reducing blood cholesterol levels. Fatty meats and full fat dairy products that are high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fats.

Small changes over time pay off! Try this delicious heart healthy bruschetta for all the special "Valentines" in your life.

Bruschetta

Avocado and Basil Bruschetta

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

2 ripe avocados, seeded and peeled
4 Roma tomatoes, sliced lengthwise and diced
¼ cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves, plus additional for garnish
1 to 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground pepper and salt, to taste
whole wheat baguette (about 10 oz.), diagonally cut into ½-inch slices and lightly toasted

1. Thinly slice the avocados and cut the slices in half crosswise and reserve.
2. Combine the diced avocado, tomatoes, onion, olive oil, basil, garlic, salt and, pepper in a bowl.
3. Top each slice of toasted bread with a heaping tablespoon of the tomato-avocado mixture.
4. Garnish each with small leaf of basil, if desired.

Nutrition Facts (per 3 slices): 193 Calories; 11 g Total Fat; 1.5g Saturated Fat; 0 mg Cholesterol; 210 mg Sodium; 21 g Carbohydrate; 4 g Fiber; 4 g Protein

Recipe adapted from Old Ways Health through Heritage website

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 Eighth Edition. To learn more about the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines visit:  http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/