Heart Health Month

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Vegetables in the shape of a heart.In honor of the month of love, I am going to tell you the three little words you all want to hear…….”Eat More Fat!!!”  That’s right, more fat. In particular, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. February is Heart Health Awareness month and omega-3 fatty acids may maintain cardiovascular health, as well as help prevent many health problems including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, more than 800,000 people die of cardiovascular disease every year in the United States. Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for all types of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels including coronary heart disease (clogged arteries) and heart disease, or conditions that affects the heart’s structure and function.

Omega-3s are good for your heart in several ways. First they reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood and most common form of fat in your body. Most triglycerides come from eating it in our diets, but we also make it when we consume too much energy (calories) and store extra as triglycerides in our fat cells. Omega-3s lower blood triglycerides by preventing the absorption of them into the blood from the small intestine.

Another way that omega-3s benefit our heart is by slowing the buildup of plaque, a substance comprising of triglyceride fats, cholesterol, and calcium, which hardens and blocks our arteries. This could also be an effect of decreasing triglycerides in the blood stream. Two other ways that these healthy fats can help our heart include reducing the risk of developing an irregular heart beat (arrhythmias) and slightly reducing blood pressure.

So what are omega-3 fats and how do I get them in my diet? Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. We need to get omega-3s from our food. We can get ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) or Linolenic acid from plants. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) come from animal sources like fish. ALA is an essential fat because we cannot make it, but we can use it to make EPA and DHA although perhaps not in sufficient amounts.

To get more fat into your diet and benefit heart health, eat two, 3.5 ounce servings of fish per week. The highest levels can be found in mackerel, herring, tuna, salmon, and trout. Other plant sources include walnuts, flaxseed, chia, and canola oil. Although, you should eat more fat, don’t go overboard. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that total fat consumption be no more than 25% to 30% of your daily calories.

Chia seeds and flaxseeds are easy additions that contain a lot of omega-3s in small portions  In fact, ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil have the highest ALA content out of all plant-based food sources of omega-3s. Start adding chia seeds and flaxseeds to your water, smoothies, salads, oatmeal, and breads today for loads of health benefits.

Recipes to try

Chocolate Overnight Oats

Overnight oats are a great way to meal prep ahead of time. They are an excellent source of whole grains, fiber, and protein to help keep you satisfied. Start with 1/2 cup of milk or milk alternative. If you prefer a thicker or thinner final product, just adjust your amount of liquid accordingly. These Chocolate Overnight Oats have a rich and creamy chocolate flavor. With such a decadent flavor, why reserve this treat for only breakfast? Enjoy these Chocolate Overnight Oats as an afternoon snack or evening dessert.

Serves 1

Serving size: 1½ cups

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 0 minutes

Total time: 5 minutes + overnight

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup oats (old fashioned or rolled oats work best)
  • 1/2 cup milk or milk-alternative (1%, skim, almond, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup or honey
  • 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon chocolate chips
  • Optional: sliced fruit

Directions

  1. Add all ingredients except chocolate chips to a food-safe jar or food storage container.
  2. Mix until well combined.
  3. Seal and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  4. Top with chocolate chips or optional fruit before serving.

Homemade Flaxseed Granola

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds, raw
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds, raw
  • ¼ cup whole flaxseeds
  • ¼ cup ground flaxseeds
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 3-4 tbsp. honey, raw

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300º F.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix together until ingredients are lightly coated with oil and honey. Add more honey if necessary. It will be a little sticky and messy!
  3. Lay out on a baking sheet in a thin layer. Bake for 10 min, or until very lightly toasted. Let cool before serving or storing.
  4. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks.

Green Olive Sauce

A versatile sauce that can be paired with not only chicken but salmon, snapper, or other white fish! Make it vegetarian by pairing the sauce with a grain.

Serves: 8 Serving size: ½ cup rice, 4 oz chicken, sauce

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 5 – 10 minutes

Total time: 45 – 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ cup parsley, chopped
  • 3 cups green olives, rinsed well then sliced
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice

Serving suggestions: 4 cups cooked brown rice or quinoa 4-6 chicken breasts, grilled or baked, and sliced

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Do not allow it to brown.
  2. Add the black pepper, cumin, paprika, parsley, and green olives to the pan. Cook over low heat for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add the lemon juice, taste, and adjust seasoning.
  4. To serve, place ½ cup cooked brown rice or quinoa on a plate, layer with about 4 ounces chicken slices, and evenly top with the green olive sauce.

The mediterranean diet is high in healthy fats and low in saturated fat. Check out our recipes to make your heart healthier today.

For more information on nutrition on food safety please contact FCS Agent Janice Roberts at janice_roberts@ncsu.edu