Eating for a Healthy Heart

It’s only fitting that February, also known as the month dedicated to love and all things heart-shaped, is also dedicated to the most vital organ in our bodies, the heart. Cardiovascular disease has been plaguing the United States, and the number of cases has only continued to rise in the last decade. With over 800,000 deaths a year (that’s 1 in 3 deaths!) stemming from various forms of cardiovascular disease (3), it is something worth talking about. National heart health month is dedicated to creating awareness for cardiovascular disease and starting a conversation about how to reduce the risk.

So, what exactly is CVD, and what causes it? CVD is a heart and blood vessel disease that includes a multi-tude of problems, many related to atherosclerosis (4). Atherosclerosis develops when plaque builds up on the walls of our arteries, which makes it more difficult for blood to flow through (4). This buildup can ultimately lead to a clogged artery, which is when individuals suffer heart attacks or strokes (4).

The key risk factors of CVD include (2):

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Smoking

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Poor diet

  • Physical inactivity

  • Excessive alcohol use

With 1 in 3 U.S. adults having elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) and the obesity rate climbing to almost 40%, it’s time Americans act to improve their health (5). Although it may seem that CVD has taken a large toll on many American lives, the one positive is that it is a preventable disease. The American Heart Association has initiated the idea and movement of Life’s Simple 7 (1). These seven steps provide a framework for creating a healthier lifestyle, and greatly reducing your risk for CVD (1).

Life’s Simple 7:

  1. Manage blood pressure – Elevated blood pressure (characterized by 130/90) is a key risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Lowering your blood pressure reduces the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys.

  2. Control cholesterol – High cholesterol contributes to the build-up of plaque, this can clog arteries, leading to heart attack and stroke. By maintaining and controlling your cholesterol you’re helping your arteries steer clear of blockage.

  3. Reduce blood sugar – The food we consume is converted into glucose, also known as blood sugar, which is what our bodies use for energy. High blood sugar levels (or too much glucose in the blood) can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.

  4. Get active – 1 in 3 U.S. adults do not meet current recommendations for physical activity. Daily physical activity increases both the quality and length of your life, and can also contribute to both health and overall wellness benefits.

  5. Lose weight – Losing excess fat and unnecessary pounds reduces strain on your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and skeleton, bonus is that active living and weight loss contributes to lower blood pressure.

  6. Stop smoking – Cigarette smokers have a much greater risk for developing CVD.

  7. Eat better – Eating a heart healthy diet can improve your chances for both feeling good and staying disease free! As a dietetics student, eating better is always a top priority, and there are many ways you can incorporate heart healthy foods into your diet. Eating an overall healthy dietary pattern that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry and fish, nuts, and legumes is the best way to reduce your risk for CVD Many of these options are low in calories and bad fats, and are rich in soluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals. One of my favorite heart healthy foods is oats. Whole grain oats can help lower blood cholesterol due to a soluble fiber unique to oats. Below is a heart-healthy oatmeal recipe from Quaker Oats!

Ingredients: (makes 6 servings)

2 cups oats (opt for steel cut or old fashioned, which provide more fiber per gram) 3 cups fat-free milk (or Almondmilk for dairy free option) 3⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon 1⁄4 tsp. nutmeg 1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas) 2 tbsps. chopped walnuts Plain or vanilla yogurt (optional) Banana slices (optional)

In medium saucepan, bring milk, brown sugar, and spices to a gentle boil; stir in oats. Return to boil, reduce heat to medium and cook oats for 2-5 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove oatmeal from heat and add mashed banana and chopped walnuts. Top with yogurt, sliced bananas, and additional walnuts if desired.

Blog provided by:

Taylor LaRosee, a junior dietetics student at Iowa State University, who enjoys running, grocery shopping, and sipping on coconut milk lattes. She’s passionate about whole food nutrition.


(1) My Life Check – Life’s Simple 7. (2017, October 5). Retrieved February 06, 2018, from http://ww-—Lifes-Simple-7_UCM_471453_Article.jsp

(2) Heart Disease Facts. (2017, November 28). Retrieved February 06, 2018, from /heartdisease/facts.htm

(3) Jackson, E. (9, February 2017). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2017 Update . Retrieved February 06, 2018, from ber/2017/02/09/14/58/heart-disease-and-stroke-statistics-2017

(4) What is Cardiovascular Disease? (2017, June 7). Retrieved February 06, 2018, from http://ww-

(5) American Heart Association News. (2018, January 31). More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, AHA says. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from lion-americans-have-high-blood-pressure-aha-says/

(6) Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, March 18). Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease. Retrieved February 06, 2018, from ease/in-depth/heart-healthy-diet/art-20047702


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