Feb­ru­ary is Amer­i­can Heart Month, a time when all peo­ple can focus on their car­dio­vas­cu­lar health. Do you know how to keep your heart healthy? You can take an active role in reduc­ing your risk for heart dis­ease by eat­ing a healthy diet, engag­ing in phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, and man­ag­ing your cho­les­terol and blood pressure.

Heart dis­ease accounts for near­ly one-third of all deaths world­wide. Stud­ies and experts rec­om­mend exer­cise as an impor­tant way to main­tain­ing a healthy heart, but your diet plays a major role in heart health and can impact your risk of heart dis­ease. The most impor­tant fac­tor in healthy eat­ing is hav­ing a bal­anced diet, watch­ing por­tions, and eat­ing foods you actu­al­ly enjoy. This will allow you to stick with it for the long term.

Let’s take a clos­er look at the 4 key fac­tors for a heart healthy diet and exam­ples of how you can incor­po­rate them into your dai­ly life:

1. Fruits and Vegetables:
Leafy green veg­eta­bles are well known for their wealth of vit­a­mins, min­er­als, and antiox­i­dants. An analy­sis of eight stud­ies found that increas­ing leafy green veg­etable intake was asso­ci­at­ed with up to a 16% low­er inci­dence of heart disease.

2. Healthy Proteins:
Lean meat, poul­try and fish, low-fat dairy prod­ucts and eggs are some of your best sources of pro­tein. Legumes – beans, peas and lentils – are good, low-fat sources of pro­tein and are a good sub­sti­tute for meat. Also, sub­sti­tut­ing plant pro­tein for ani­mal pro­tein – ie. a black bean burg­er for a ham­burg­er – will reduce your fat & cho­les­terol intake and increase your fiber intake.

3. Healthy Fats:
Not all fats are bad. Foods with monoun­sat­u­rat­ed and polyun­sat­u­rat­ed fats are impor­tant for your brain and heart. Lim­it foods with trans-fats, which increase the risk for heart disease.

4. Whole Grains:
Whole grains are good sources of fiber and oth­er nutri­ents that play a role in reg­u­lat­ing blood pres­sure and heart health.

Eat­ing heart healthy is a lifestyle, it’s about nutri­tion, bal­ance and retrain­ing our mind to make bet­ter food choic­es. What you eat can influ­ence almost every aspect of heart health, from blood pres­sure and inflam­ma­tion to cho­les­terol lev­els and triglyc­erides. A well-bal­anced diet can help keep your heart in good shape and min­i­mize your risk of heart dis­ease. With plan­ning and a few sim­ple sub­sti­tu­tions, you can eat with your heart in mind!