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Ask the Expert: SMART Approaches to Nutrition for Heart, Mind, and Body Health

Ask the Expert: SMART Approaches to Nutrition for Heart, Mind, and Body Health

Ask the Expert: SMART Approaches to Nutrition for Heart, Mind, and Body Health

March is National Nutrition Month! What a great time to pause and take another look at your food choices and what’s best for your overall health and well-being.

The American Heart Association just released their 2022 statistics and found that the incidence of heart disease in the United States continues to increase markedly in both men and women. The incidence of heart disease was declining until about 2010, then cases started to rise with cardiovascular disease now accounting for one-third of all deaths.
With the rate of overweight and obesity also markedly increasing, (overweight or obesity status is a major factor in cardiovascular disease), perhaps we can look to the Blue Zones, five regions around the world where they live the longest lives and enjoy low rates of chronic disease. In these areas the daily staples consist of legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. They consume very limited meat and very few processed foods, following a more Mediterranean/DASH style dietary pattern.

Our Standard American Diet (SAD), is actually quite the opposite! Americans are eating more ultra-processed foods; high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium than ever before.

So I propose some SMART steps to consider as we welcome Spring.

S: Structure: Consider the Benjamin Franklin quote: If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Taking/making time for meal planning goes a long way to creating healthier eating habits. Make it a habit to get one or all family members together and come up with some ideas for the week. Getting everyone on board is a fun way to generate new ideas and hopefully some enthusiasm to be more involved with what is served.

M: Make more meals at home!
Stock your pantry with heart-healthy canned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines), canned beans (chickpeas, kidney beans), frozen veggies and fruits, whole grain breads, cereals, nuts and seeds. Pre-cut washed veggies, bagged greens, broccoli slaw, cooked beets. For a portioned dose of healthy fats, you can buy individual servings of guacamole and hummus. They even freeze well. There are even handy bags of brown rice and quinoa which you can buy ready to heat up in the microwave. Take a look at my sample meal and snack suggestions on my website;, to get some simple, balanced ideas.

A: Added sugar and sodium are everywhere! Start paying attention to ADDED sugar! Studies suggest that sugar is added to about 74% of manufactured products. The average American consumes 17 teaspoons of added sugar each day!!! The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams of sugar) for most women and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for men. Almost half of the added sugar comes from one source: sugary drinks. 12 ounces of Sweet Tea have 8 ½ teaspoons of sugar, Cola has 10.5 teaspoons per 12 ounces, and a Starbucks Venti Chai Tea Latte has 13 teaspoons. 1 teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams. Hopefully this leads you to an AHA moment.

Sodium is also a concern. The average American consumes 3,500 mg of sodium per day. The AHA recommends a maximum of 2300 mg/day. Most sodium (over 70%), comes from restaurant and prepared/packaged foods, not the sodium we use on the table. A Chipotle Chicken Burrito bowl with beans, rice and salsa has 1260 mg sodium, while a Nando’s PERi-PERi Chicken Tender Bowl has 2580 mg sodium. Maybe you could “half it your way,” and add a side of fresh fruit or choose a lower sodium option?

R: Rainbow of Colors! One of my favorite sayings is “Veggies for volume; fiber for fullness.” Adding more colors to your plate is one of the easiest and best ways to get heart healthy nutrients and limit calories. Start with berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries). Choose fresh or frozen, organic or even regular. Just include MORE!! Think of filling half of your plate with produce, mostly non-starchy veggies if you can, then the remaining ¼ from a protein source and ¼ from whole grains or starchy vegetables. Add a side of dairy, and you’re complete.

T: Re- think your protein. Americans on average get enough protein!! The concern is how it is included during the day. For appetite and blood sugar regulation, preservation of muscle mass as we age, and even mental clarity between meals, it’s best to spread it out! Most Americans don’t include enough protein at breakfast, often not enough at lunch, then overindulge at dinner. We can only use so much protein at a single meal; extra protein doesn’t go to muscle mass; it just adds to extra total calories and can contribute to weight gain. The average American only needs 20-30 grams of protein per meal. Consider viewing protein as more of a condiment.

By being more mindful of one or a few of these SMART ideas, you are doing your heart a favor as well as your mind and body! It’s the small, easy, enjoyable, and sustainable tweaks that matter. Wouldn’t it be worth a try if even one idea could add to optimizing your heart health, contribute to more energy, a clearer mind, better sleep and promote longevity?

Here’s to a heart healthy, energized Spring!

Mary Hunt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been serving the Fairfax and Washington metropolitan area since 1987. Her approach focuses on empowering her patients with optimism and providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to achieve healthier eating habits as well as overall improved health and wellness.

Members of Eileen West, MD and Associates are eligible to receive a complimentary nutrition consultation with Mary at your convenience. Call the office at 571-999-9378 or email us at to schedule your consult today.

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Eileen West, MD
Eileen West, MD about 12 hrs ago

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Eileen West, MD
Eileen West, MDabout 2 days ago

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Eileen West, MD
Eileen West, MDabout 6 days ago

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