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healthier heartFebruary is Heart Health Month, and a good time to check in with that New Year’s Resolution to “eat healthier.” Any way you slice it, exercise takes time, but eating is something we all do every day. With any new habit or change, though, the battle really takes place in your mind. Here are three principles to keep it real and make it simple.

1 Realize that the perfect is the enemy of the good. A well-meaning organization once tried to teach people about the value of organic vegetables, with the unintended result that they stopped eating vegetables entirely. Apparently people felt they couldn’t live up to the standard. Even adding a few heart-healthy foods (berries to your cereal, a cup of green tea) is better than nothing. Likewise, if you don’t have time to make your children’s lunches and you know they’re eating pizza at school and leaving the apple, focus on feeding them a healthy dinner.

2 Know that people have a limited amount of willpower in a day, so make sure your food choices don’t involve using much. Check out the list of heart-healthy foods, pick a few you and your children wouldn’t mind eating more of and skip the others. This also means making things more convenient and accessible.

Jenny Gautreaux, a personal trainer and registered nurse at Mary Washington Hospice, suggests putting chicken in a Ziploc bag with a marinade before tossing it in the freezer. “Later, it’ll be just as easy to thaw and cook as bad-for-you nuggets,” says Gautreaux. She also says that putting out cut-up fruits and veggies on the counter for kids with hummus and tzatziki makes them 100 percent more likely to eat them. “Even picky eaters will try some” if it’s put out for them.

3 Recognize that one substitution has the value of the one-two punch. Even though you don’t want to tax your willpower, swapping one unhealthy food that makes a regular appearance in your diet for a healthy one yields a double benefit and also gives a psychological feeling of satisfaction. If you have mini-Snickers stashed in your desk at work, bring a nut and seed mix with bits of dark chocolate.

Dr. Daniel Gray of Sentara Pratt Medical Group advises patients to focus on replacing processed foods with home-cooked ones, and puts soda at the top of the list for foods to avoid. My two cents: Make the Snickers and Coke into a Friday treat so you don’t feel deprived.

15 Heart-Healthy Foods*

1. Fish
2. Nuts
3. Berries
4. Flaxseeds
5. Oatmeal
6. Dark beans
7. 4 ounces of red wine
8. Tofu
9. Red, orange and yellow vegetables
10. Spinach
11. Fruits
12. Asparagus
13. Tomatoes
14. Dark chocolate
15. Broccoli

Top Foods to Avoid**

1. Soda
2. Baked goods
3. Refined carbs (condiments, dressings, bread)
4. Margarine
5. Powdered creamer
6. Bacon
7. Processed meat

Heart-Healthy French Fries

Good news: Potatoes—even white ones—contain heart-healthy potassium. I use my grandma’s vintage hand french-fry cutter, which looks like chicken wire in a small picture frame. You can buy a modern cutter for less than $20, or just cut them yourself.

Place cut potatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt, pepper and oregano, and toss well. Bake for 30–40 minutes at 400 F (higher if you like them crispy), turning halfway through baking time.


* Courtesy: ClevelandClinic.com
** Courtesy: Prevention.com

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