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Nutrition faculty shares heart health tips for American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month, a time to spread awareness about cardiovascular health and motivate Americans to adopt healthy lifestyles to prevent heart disease. Heart disease isa serious health crisis and is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing about 2 people every minute.  

To help better understand what heart disease is and how it can be prevented, University of North Florida faculty expert Dr. Casey Colin, assistant professor for the Department of Nutrition & Dietetics, has provided her expertise as well as helpful nutrition tips to improve heart health.

“Heart disease is a term grouping several different heart conditions, the most prominent one being coronary artery disease (CAD),” said Colin. “CAD, often referred to as clogged arteries, and can often lead to a heart attack or stroke if left undiscovered and untreated.”

Colin explains that while some risk factors for heart disease cannot be changed, such as family history and age, most risk factors can be influenced by improvements in lifestyle, physical activity, diet, stress management and sleep.

Specifically looking to changes in diet, Colin explains that while nutrition research is ever-changing, there are some tried and true recommendations for heart health that can aid in the prevention of heart disease.

Colin’s top nutrition tips for a heart-healthy diet include:

  • Increasing intake of a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits.
  • Finding ways to consume foods as whole as possible, such as replacing white bread or crackers with 100% whole grain versions.
  • Using monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids in meals and snacks, such as nuts, seeds, salmon, tuna, avocados and olive oil.
  • Maintaining proper hydration and reduce intake of added sugars, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages. Consider flavoring water with fruit infusions like sliced fresh lemons and limes.

Additional factors that can reduce your risk for heart disease include not smoking, reducing or avoiding alcohol intake, increasing physical activity and managing stress. If you are having difficulty managing stress, consider seeking guidance from a mental health professional. If you are having difficulty making changes in your eating habits, consider seeking guidance from a registered dietitian nutritionist.