Lower the salt, cut the fat for Heart Health Month

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Focus on whole foods, fruits

February is Heart Health Month—an observance that reminds us just how prevalent cardiovascular disease is. It’s the leading cause of death in the United States. So, taking good care of our tickers is a wise thing to do at any age. And, it’s never too early to start.
It’s almost always healthier and cheaper to buy groceries and prepare meals at home, especially when you shop the commissary. With so many choices available, though, shopping can get confusing, so here are a few tips to guide you.
Focus first on the whole foods that line the perimeter of the store. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with good-for-you vitamins, minerals and fiber and are sodium-free and fat-free, except for avocados, which contain only the good fats. Fresh, raw vegetables are an excellent low-calorie snack. Try to make fruit, whether fresh, frozen or canned in water or natural juice your first choice for dessert and save baked goods and sweets for special occasions only.
Choose lean meats and poultry (look for cuts with “loin” or “round” in the name). Work in fish such as salmon, and meat substitutes like beans, peas, lentils and tofu on a routine basis. A cooked, one-cup serving of any of these substitutes equals a
two-ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish.
Make the switch to low-fat or fat-free dairy and save a ton of saturated fat and calories. Go for soft margarine (with no transfat) instead of butter, and indulge in cream and ice cream only on special occasions, and even then, do so sparingly. Limit cholesterol by using egg whites instead of egg yolks, when possible.
Whole-grain breads should be your mainstay rather than those made with refined flour, and doughnuts, pies, cakes and other pastries of that sort fit in the rare occasion category.
When shopping the center aisles of the store, read labels carefully and choose those lowest in salt and fat.
Other worthwhile swaps that you may not even notice include:
* Choosing mustard rather than mayonnaise on sandwiches;
* Skip the cheese on a sandwich or wrap, or use low-fat cheese only;
* Choose two tablespoons of peanuts for a snack instead of a medium glazed doughnut;
* Choose low-fat sour cream or plain yogurt on your baked potato instead of full-fat sour cream; and
* Use no-salt canned vegetables and season with herbs and spices instead.