The Healthy Beat

February 24, 2009

Did you know that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States? A heart healthy diet, along with daily exercise, can help decrease the risk of developing heart disease. February is American Heart Month, so this is a perfect time of the year to start talking to your customers about the ways they can work to improve their heart health. Simple dietary changes, such as the eight tips below, can help get your customers on track for living heart healthy!

1.  More Fiber: Dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, may help lower cholesterol. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, barley, beans, fruits and vegetables. Fiber also helps you stay full in between meals, which can reduce snacking, especially on unhealthy foods that are packed with empty calories. Cutting back on these excess calories can lead to a smaller waistline. The recommended amount of dietary fiber is 25 to 35 grams a day.


2.  More Whole Grains: Another good source of dietary fiber, whole grains also contain more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals compared to refined grains. Whole grain foods are popping up all over the grocery store, especially in the cereal, cracker and bread sections. Check out the ingredient list to be sure that whole grains or whole wheat are listed first. Brown and wild rice, whole grain pastas and even popcorn are other great whole grain options to add to your diet. Boosting whole grain servings may help decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.


3.  More Potassium: Did you know that potassium-rich foods may help lower your blood pressure? Strive to eat more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. A serving of vegetables is ½ cup cooked or 1 cup leafy greens; a serving of fruit is ½ cup chopped, ¼ cup dried, 4 ounces 100% fruit juice or 1 medium piece, such as a medium-sized apple. Low-fat and non-fat dairy, such as skim milk and nonfat yogurt, also contain potassium. Including 2 to 3 servings of dairy a day is a great goal. A serving counts as 1 cup milk or yogurt or 1.5 ounces low-fat cheese.


4.  Less Sodium: The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day. Eating too many salty, processed foods can easily exceed these recommendations. Frozen entrees, canned vegetables and beans, soups, instant mixes, snack foods, processed meats and salad dressings tend to be high in sodium, so be sure to check out the Nutrition Facts Label. “Low sodium” means that the food item contains less than 140 mg per serving.


5.  Fewer Fats: Cut down on saturated and trans fats as much as possible since these may increase bad LDL cholesterol. Easy ways to decrease saturated fats include selecting skim or 1% milk, low-fat cheese, limiting stick butter, avoiding fried foods and trimming fat off meat whenever possible. Saturated fats should be less than 10% of our daily caloric intake, or no more than 20g saturated fat on a 2,000 calorie diet. Trans fats can be found in bakery items, pie crusts, some snack foods, fried foods and stick margarine. These fats should be limited as much as possible. 


6.  More Omega-3’s: Choose oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel twice a week to boost omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. These heart healthy polyunsaturated fats may help decrease triglycerides and improve blood pressure. Canned tuna and salmon packed in water are affordable alternatives to purchasing fresh fish. Omega-3’s are also found in walnuts, flax seed and canola oil.


7.  More “Good” Fats: Olive oil, canola oil, nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocados and olives are rich in heart healthy monounsaturated fats which may help improve HDL cholesterol. The key is to choose these types of fat in place of unhealthy fats and practice portion control since these calories can add up quickly. 


8.  More Exercise: In addition to these shopping tips, exercise is a very important component of maintaining a healthy heart. If you have not exercised in a while, be sure to schedule a check-up with your doctor. Start slowly, and gradually increase your cardio activities as your endurance improves. Walking is a great form of exercise. Taking a walk not only burns calories, but can also help improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars. Another perk – walking is free!


Sarah Boyd, RD, joined Ukrop's Super Market's wellness team in November 2006. Sarah frequently counsels customers on heart disease, diabetes, weight management and food allergies. As a native of Richmond, VA she has a passion for contributing to the health and well-being of this community.


As a nutritionist working for a supermarket, you have a unique outlook on how retailers are increasing health awareness at the store level and the kind of questions that shoppers ask. Each month, we'll be featuring a guest column, written by a nutritionist, that communicates this point of view on a variety of topics. And we want to hear from you. If you are a supermarket nutritionist interested in sharing your perspective and insights, we would love to help you share your thoughts! Please contact Allison Bloom at And here's something else to get excited about. If we use your guest column, we'll give you a free iPod.