Care for Your Heart: Interview With Our Nutrition Team

As many of you know, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in our country. And February, the month that emphasizes love, romance, and everything related to matters of the heart, is the perfect time to raise awareness about this concern. We sat down with our very own PureFormulas nutrition team, Michelle Smith and Raisa Cavalcante, to discuss what we can do to take better care of our hearts not just on Valentine’s Day but also throughout the year.

1. Is heart health something you are concerned about on a daily basis? Why should Americans be more concerned about their cardiovascular health?

Michelle Smith: Personally, my family has a history of heart disease, so heart health and taking action ahead of time is really important to me. In my opinion, Americans should be more concerned about their cardiovascular health because deaths from cardiovascular diseases are on the rise. But many times, there are things many of us can do to make adjustments before the situation gets dire. 

Raisa Cavalcante: I usually think of health and wellness as one whole, and that includes heart health. I also believe that we should all be more concerned not only about cardiovascular health but about our overall health. We as a culture consume many unhealthy foods, move less, and are stressed more. We need to find a way to bring back balance into our life.

2. What do you do to take care of your own heart?

RC: Although my background is in nutrition, I find that what makes or breaks my day is whether I’ve squeezed in a meditation session that day. Meditating helps bring emotional balance and that helps me make better food decisions.

MS: I embrace a completely plant-based diet, which means I only consume foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, and loads of fruits and vegetables, all of which have been shown to promote heart health. Physical activity is another important aspect for me, and I work out at least four times a week, even if it is only a brisk 30 minute walk. Finally, I implement various stress-reducing techniques in my daily life. Yoga in the morning, journaling at night, and using lavender essential oil right before bed, all help to lower my stress, and lessen the burden on my heart.

3. What kind of lifestyle changes would you recommend to someone who’s trying to take better care of his/her heart health?

MS: No matter what change you make, it is important to start small, and pick one area of your life you want to change at a time. Diet, exercise, and stress relief are all important aspects to improving heart health, and you need to decide which is the most realistic for you to begin with. For example, if you decide you want to start with changing your diet, you could start by making half of your plate full of vegetables. If you want to start with exercise, an option would be to start walking 30 minutes a day; if you’d like to focus on stress reduction first, find an activity that calms you, and implement that into your daily life.

4. What are your favorite foods or snacks with heart-healthy benefits that you—and other people—can incorporate into their diets?

MS: Some of my favorite heart healthy snacks include nuts like walnuts, and seeds (think flax and chia), as well as oatmeal. A great heart-healthy snack can be granola, so combine it with fruits, oats, nuts, and seeds! 

RC: I love oats! It may sound a little boring, but you can use oats in fun different ways. Add them to smoothies, make sweet or savory oatmeal dishes, and you can even use them as a flour substitute. Simply grind it in a food processor, and you can use it in your baked goods.

5. Why do you think heart disease is such an epidemic in our country? What is currently being done to combat it?

RC: I think that our day-to-day is just so busy that we don’t seem to have time to invest in ourselves. We don’t really cook anymore, find it hard to get moving during the day (especially those with desk jobs), and there’s also a lot of pressure to make money, be successful, and just be perfect overall. All these factors take quite a toll on our health. The good news is that there are many campaigns with the goal to bring attention back to our health. And although technology can sometimes be one of the factors responsible for us moving less, it can also be used as a powerful tool to help us be healthier. There are meditation, nutrition, and fitness apps that help you stay on top of your health!

6. Any final advice, suggestions, or tricks you’d like to share with the readers?

RC: You are worth it! Take time to invest in you and your health because you won’t regret it. In fact, investing in your health now will help you gain more time–and health–in the future. 

MS: It may feel overwhelming when looking at all the areas of your life you might need to change to have a healthy heart. But remember, long-lasting behavioral changes do not usually happen overnight. Set manageable goals for yourself, and remember to be gentle with yourself as well. To increase your chances of success, I always recommend working with a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist. As Dietitians, we are trained to help our clients/patients realize their unique health goals, and work to guide them toward reaching their goals through manageable and realistic steps.