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Take these heart tips 'to heart' Feb. 25, 2013
Written by: Fran Berkoff, QMI Agency

As we come to the end of Heart Month, I hope you've had a chance to read some information and maybe even hear some conversations about the importance of keeping your heart healthy and the many lifestyle steps you can take. And, in addition to reading and listening, I'm hoping that you are taking some of these suggestions "to heart" and getting into action.

I write often about the hearty healthy benefits of fatty fish-- salmon, mackerel, trout, herrings, sardines, Arctic char in lowering risk of heart disease. I also write often about fruits and vegetables which contain potassium (important for healthy blood pressure) and antioxidants (which protect against inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease) and also whole grains which are linked to better heart health. Here are three other strategies to work into your heart-healthy routine:

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PLANT STEROLS: These natural compounds found in vegetable oils, nuts, fruits and vegetables, can help lower blood cholesterol when eaten in combination with a heart-healthy diet. The evidence suggests you need at least two grams per day to be effective. Although they are found naturally in many foods, the amounts are very small and getting to two grams is difficult. But, there are foods on the market that are fortified with plant sterols. For example, some margarines such as Becel's Pro-Active and President's Choice Blue Menu Celeb with Plant Sterols, some yogurts such as Astro Biobest and Danacol, a yogurt drink are fortified with them. But, a healthy diet is still important -- you can't have a rich fatty meal and expect these compounds to negate the effects.

SOLUBLE FIBRE: When we think of eating high fibre, we often think about wheat bran, vegetables and whole grains which do have lots of fibre, but mostly insoluble fibre and not as much soluble fibre. And, it's the soluble fibre found in oats, oat bran, beans, barley, dried peas, beans and lentils, apples and pears, that has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels. Have at least 3 grams a day consistently for the best results. A one-cup bowl of cooked oatmeal has four grams total fibre, two grams soluble and a 1/2 cup (125ml) of kidney beans has six grams total fibre, three of which is soluble. Start the day with a bowl of oatmeal, have bean and barley soup for lunch, an apple or pear as a snack.

HEALTHY FATS: Olive oil, avocados, canola oil, almonds, macadamia nuts provide healthy monounsaturated fats which help lower your LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) and may help raise your HDL (the "good" cholesterol). It's also important to steer clear of any foods with trans fats which have a negative effect on your heart health.

LEGUMES: Kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black beans and others contain soluble fibre, and they are also rich in potassium, magnesium, folate and antioxidants which can help manage blood pressure, lower cholesterol and help fight inflammation.

You'll also keep your heart healthy by managing your weight, lowering your sodium intake, giving up cigarettes, keeping active and getting your blood pressure checked regularly. Why not make every month heart month with a heart healthy diet and lifestyle.

MORE COLUMNS BY FRAN BERKOFF, QMI AGENCY

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