It’s hard to miss all the heart-themed gifts and goodies that are popping up everywhere. As a health coach, I no longer see the symbol only as representing Valentine’s Day; I see it as an important reminder to take care of our health and wellness. That’s because February is American Heart Month, with a mission to increase awareness and actions that prevent and reduce heart disease. It’s a rapidly growing health issue; according to the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming more lives each year than all forms of cancer and respiratory disease combined. Today, more than 90 million American adults are living with some form of heart disease.

However, I am inspired by the clients I work with who are taking steps to improve their health, nutrition and weight. Even small changes in your daily fitness and food choices can minimize your risk of heart issues. And because you may be more tempted to eat sweets this month, I’ve included my favorite “good, better best” tips for kicking your sugar cravings, since consuming too much added sugar can significantly increase our risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in JAMA: Internal Medicine. Try some of my delicious heart-healthy recipes! Enjoy and share!

Wishing you a happy, healthy and full heart,

Marsha Beals, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, AADP

P.S. If your significant other is searching for a true heartfelt Valentine’s Gift for you, drop a hint about wanting your own personal Health Coach!

Be Sweet to Yourself: Use “Good, Better and Best” Food Choices!

A heart healthy diet is low in refined sugar and sweeteners, low in sodium, low in trans fats, and high in “good, better and best” choices, including nutrient-dense vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and whole grains.
Let’s start with sugar (since you will be seeing “the big red heart” a LOT this month!) The latest research continues to show that sugar causes inflammation; suppresses the immune system; is a leading contributor to obesity and adult-onset diabetes; and increases our risk of cardiovascular disease. Sodium is another heart concern; consuming too much salt can increase our risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Ready to fight back? I recommend, whenever possible, flavoring foods with “good, better and best” alternatives to sugar and salt. Try a few of these food flavoring tweaks in your own meals!
• When recipes call for sugar, try chopped dates, raw honey, coconut sugar, or maple syrup.
• Instead of salt, try chopped onions, garlic, Braggs liquid aminos, kelp granules, and nutritional yeast.
• Ditch the salt shaker for “better” choices, including herbs and spices. There are dozens to select — from Italian flavorings such as rosemary, thyme and basil; ground spices such as cayenne and chili powder; or simple additions that pack a lot of flavor, such as cumin and lemon pepper.
• Multiply the benefits of choosing spices over salt by using natural anti-inflammatories such as fresh ginger or ground turmeric.
• To flavor fish, vegetables and salads, try citrus — lemon, lime and orange are great complements to fresh foods. Use a tablespoon or two of citrus juice, or for a more intense flavor, try a teaspoon of finely grated citrus zest.
• Replace soda, sport drinks and energy drinks with flavored water. Use citrus juice or try muddled blueberries, raspberries, pineapple, or watermelon! You’ll have a sweet and healthy alternative.
• Other heart healthy tips for your daily diet include adding more fiber to your diet with whole grains, fruits and leafy greens; and including healthy fats in each meal, such as nuts, flax and chia seeds, olive oil, and avocado

If that’s not what you’re currently doing, all of those changes might sound a little overwhelming. I encourage you to make one little change at a time if that’s more doable for you. Small steps lead to big changes. If you need support making healthy changes, I’m here to help you make “good, better and best” alternatives! One conversation could change your life! Let’s talk!