February is heart month: When it comes to preventing heart disease, hypertension and stroke,  we have all heard that one way to increase your heart’s health is through diet, selecting foods that are low in cholesterol and saturated fat.      However as new studies come out, we are finding that preventing heart disease is about more than just watching our cholesterol and saturated fats. It’s about our total dietary make-up and physical activity.   

 But how do we make heart healthy changes on tight budget, when we’re   pressed for time and have to feed the family in a pleasing way?  Here are a few easy steps toward putting heart healthy meals on your plate and activity in your life.  

Switch to more of the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the two unsaturated fats. They’re found mainly in many fish, nuts, seeds and oils from plants. Some examples of foods that contain these fats include salmon, trout, herring, avocados, olives, walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.  Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help lower your blood cholesterol level when you use them in place of saturated and Trans fats. Keep total fat intake between 25 and 35 percent of calories. (1)

Budget friendly recipes that are high in   mono and poly unsaturated fats often contain canola or olive oils, walnuts and don’t forget peanuts.  Here’s a quick and easy budget friendly recipe that contains sweet potatoes and peanuts   http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/sweet_potato_peanut_bisque.html

Get the “Good Carbs” by making half your plate whole fruits and vegetables to reduce your cardiovascular risk.     We have all heard that a variety of fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and nutrients in the body. Although it is seldom talked about, potassium is a crucial element for a strong, healthy body. Potassium is a key electrolyte in the body. The balance between sodium and potassium helps regulate blood pressure and heartbeat and helps to ensure the proper functioning of cells.  A variety of fruits and vegetables helps maintain that balance because they are low in sodium and high in potassium.   A nice variety for this time of year is vegetables that grow underground and can still flourish during cold winter months.  These vegetables include cabbage, turnips, beets, peas, kale, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, onions, radishes, Swiss chard, collards, celery root and squash.    Winter is the perfect time to create hearty soups made with these delicious winter vegetables.  Homemade soups are an excellent way to spread the winter food budget as they can be made ahead and frozen.    

Click here for  winter vegeatbles recipe

In addition to these winter vegetables, beans can be a perfect addition to the budget friendly soup. Beans are another  a great source of protein, fiber, potassium, foliate, vitamin E, iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, and copper-all with the added bonus of being inexpensive!

Don’t forget the fruits, in the wintertime check what’s in season,  including citrus fruits, pears and apples.  Canned fruits and frozen fruits offer variety in a lower cost ways.  Always be sure they are packed with no added sugars or in their own juice.

Be picky and increase dietary fiber through use of whole grains, in more sources than breads.

When it comes to whole grains, we first think of whole grains breads and cereals, which are great but can put a strain on the food budget.   So think outside the traditional products for whole grain.  In the cold winters, a warm breakfast can start your day with oats that are fairly low cost.  Here’s a link to quick and easy ways to try oatmeal    http://www.mrbreakfast.com/article.asp?articleid=27 .    

 Other whole grains include barley, whole grain and wild rice and wheat berries. Here’s   a great side dish to try   http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/recipes/mixed-up-grains/index.html    My family loves this side dish with added pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries (a dollar a box at your local drug store) 

Watch the sodium content in foods.    With the recent New York City announcement to work with  the food industries  to reduce the sodium intake in food supply,  it raises the awareness that we must monitor our selections.  It is especially important that we read the nutrition fact label.  A quick way to read the label is to   use the % Daily Values (%DVs) which helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. This guide tells you that 5%DV or less is low for all nutrients, those you want to limit (e.g., fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium), or for those that you want to consume in greater amounts such as fiber, calcium, and vitamins and minerals.   20%DV or more is high for all nutrients, so think twice when you especially see sodium levels greater than 20% DV.  

Make Physical Activity Fun   We all know the benefits of physical activity on heart disease and other chronic conditions.  The best way to get moving on a daily basis is to make sure you’re having fun!     Start by making a list of the activities you enjoy…walking in the park, rollerblading, salsa  dancing…the options are only limited by your imagination.  Then, make fitting them into your schedule a priority!  I enjoy the least expensive form of physical activity, walking, even in the cold. A hat,   scarf and gloves and I’m ready to go!  I try and break up the 60 minutes per day by walking for short times through the day.   For other low cost ways to be active  check out http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=2155 

 With simple changes, we can make healthier choices regarding our meals and activities without breaking the food budget.  It just takes a little planning and thinking of new ways to introduce foods and activities in a FUN way.


1. American Heart Association                                                                                                                                                       

2.  Vegetables section and recipe contributed by Kirstin Anderson, Simmons Dietetic Intern