February is all about red hearts, both Valentine Hearts and Healthy Hearts for American Heart Month in February.
While Valentine Hearts often come with chocolate and ﬂowers, American Heart Month comes with advice about heart health, namely preventing heart attacks or heart disease.
The very ﬁrst American Heart Month was in 1964, proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, one of millions of Americans who have experienced a heart attack. In late December 1963, announcing February as National Heart Month, he urged “the people of the United States to give heed to the nationwide problem of the heart and blood-vessel diseases, and to support the programs required to bring about its solution.” This proclamation was followed by the release of the now-famous Surgeon General’s Report, linking smoking with heart disease and cancer. Every President since Johnson has followed this tradition, proclaiming February as American Heart Month.
Now that it’s February, what advice should we collectively heed and follow? Overall, the advice is (1) don’t smoke, (2) get regular checkups with your doctor, (3) exercise regularly and (4) follow a healthy diet.
At Oldways we believe in the power of traditional diets, and the traditional diet with the most nutrition research behind it is the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet is truly a great friend when it comes to heart disease. In 2021, US News & World Report ranked the Mediterranean Diet #1 among Heart Healthy Diets (tied with the DASH Diet), saying “with its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, ﬁsh and other healthy fare, the Mediterranean Diet is eminently sensible.” Even though we’re talking about heart health here, the Mediterranean Diet was also ranked #1 for best overall diet, best plant-based diet, best diabetes diet, best diet for healthy eating, and #1 easiest diet to follow.
Why is the Mediterranean Diet the #1 diet for heart health. The Mediterranean diet is one of the most well-researched eating patterns in the world, with more than 5 decades of epidemiological and clinical research supporting its beneﬁts. The evidence supporting the Mediterranean Diet is so robust, that even the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a Mediterranean style diet.
One major study — the PREDIMED study, ﬁrst published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, was a landmark clinical trial demonstrating the Mediterranean diet’s role in major cardiovascular events (like stroke or myocardial infarction). The republished PREDIMED data, which have stronger randomization protocols in place, further strengthen the evidence base on the health beneﬁts of a Mediterranean diet.
As reported by the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, “a key component to this cardioprotection is replacing saturated and trans fats—which can lead to clogged arteries and heart disease—with mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can help lower cholesterol levels.”
Translating this advice about mono- and polyunsaturated fats into food on your plate means choosing olive oil, eating nuts and peanuts, avocados, and choosing ﬁsh and seafood several times a week. To go along with these healthy fats are foods that scientists and health professionals have long touted as heart healthy – plant foods like vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, whole grains – (as well as beans and legumes) providing nutrients and ﬁber.
A ﬁnal reason why the Mediterranean is a great friend for heart health? Taste and ﬂavor! Many diets fail because the food is boring or tasteless or preparations get diﬃcult. The Mediterranean Diet is the opposite; it is delicious from sunrise to sunset, and it is a way of eating and cooking that is easily followed.
Get your family involved. Take turns cooking for each other and your family. The Mediterranean Diet oﬀers plenty of heart-healthy, family-pleasing meals. Our Mediterranean Diet shopping and cooking resources are a great place to start. Need some extra support? Join our Mediterranean Diet Facebook group to connect with other healthy eaters!
A few other tips to make heart health a part of your life, not just in February but all year long include exercise and a visit to your doctor. Start small if you don’t have a simple regular exercise plan; take a walk around your neighborhood or take an easy online exercise class. It’s not important to worry about machines or exercise clothes, just start a good plan for yourself as a way to celebrate American Heart Month. Then, if you haven’t already done so, make date with your doctor for an annual checkup!
Finally, laugh, do something silly! Especially in these covid times, humor is good for your heart and can help relieve stress. Enjoy a funny ﬁlm or tv show at home; laugh with family and friends over Zoom; read a funny book; watch your children, grandchildren or children you know do the funny things that come naturally to them. Do whatever strikes your funny bone! Then, take a deep breath and enjoy.
Happy American Heart Month AND Happy Valentine’s Day!
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Join the Make Every Day Mediterranean Club Facebook group for additional information and support.