On Friday, February 1st wear something red-a shirt, tie, dress or hat-to increase awareness of the alarming rate of heart disease among women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about every 25 seconds an American will have a coronary event, and about one every minute will die from one.

If it was not your New Year’s resolution to reach a healthy weight, exercise more, eat healthier, or quit smoking, consider this: all of these are major controllable risk factors for heart disease. While it may take effort (and more than one try!) to achieve your long-term health goals, taking small steps now to improve your well-being will aid in lowering your risk for heart disease as you age.

There are several ways to assess your current heart health and risk for disease. This February, make an appointment for a heart health screening with your doctor or take advantage of screenings at your workplace or in the community. Once you “know your numbers” you can set specific wellness goals to work towards which may include maintaining a healthy body weight and reducing other risk factors.

Make your heart health a priority. Some heart-healthy foods you might enjoy include:

  • Whole Grains. Oats and brown rice are a source of fiber and B-complex vitamins that help protect against blood clots and hardening of the arteries and increase HDL “good” cholesterol. Ground flaxseed, containing omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and phytoestrogens, is a whole grain that hides easily in all sorts of foods. Add a teaspoon to yogurt parfaits or morning cereal.
  • Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, are an excellent source of healthy fat and nutrients, including fiber and phytosterols. In your next salad, add walnuts for a delicious crunch. You can also add nuts to pastas and pancakes, or you might find it fun to make your own trail mix.
  • Blueberries top the list as one of the most powerful disease-fighting fruits because of their antioxidants. These berries are also packed with fiber and vitamin C and are available all year long. Other heart-healthy fruits include cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, papaya and cantaloupe.
  • Add a bit of avocado to a salad to up the amount of heart-healthy fats. Avocados can help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol and they aid in the absorption of other carotenoids.
  • Spinach is a powerhouse. Its rich, dark color comes from the multiple phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals (especially folate and iron) that help protect against heart disease and preserve your eyesight. Broccoli, red bell peppers, asparagus, and sweet potatoes are also heart-healthy vegetables packed with vitamins A, E and fiber.
  • Use olive oil instead of butter when cooking. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil may help to lower LDL cholesterol. Look for an extra-virgin variety as it is the least processed.
  • Give soup or salad a heart-healthy nutrient boost with black or kidney beans, which contain B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and fiber.
  • Salmon and other omega-3 rich foods, eaten twice a week, may reduce your risk of a heart attack. Omega-3 fatty acids help boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure and keep blood clots at bay. Consider choosing wild salmon over farm-raised fish to reduce exposure to insecticides, pesticides, and heavy metals.
  • You can even include chocolate in your heart-healthy diet! Make sure that you choose dark chocolate with 70 percent or higher cocoa content to get the potential blood pressure lowering benefits.

Sources: American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and Washington and Shady Grove  Adventist Hospitals. For additional information, consult your physician.