Eat For Heart-Health During National Nutrition Month

Thursday, 04 March 2010

Eating is one of life's greatest pleasures. While you should enjoy the food that you and your family eat, make sure to choose heart-healthy options and eat a balanced, well-rounded diet. Heart disease is America's number one killer of both men and women, and firefighters are not immune. In fact, heart attack is the leading cause of line-of-duty firefighter deaths. The good news is that you can take steps to lower your risks of developing heart disease by adopting a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and exercise.

March is National Nutrition Month®, and this is an excellent opportunity to commit to learning more about nutrition and how you can make heart-healthy lifestyle choices. National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign created by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

The National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC) Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program provides some resources to help you on the path to good nutrition. The Program is the only national campaign dedicated to saving America's firefighters and EMS personnel from heart disease. As part of the Program, the NVFC has released the Heart-Healthy Firefighter Cookbook filled with over 60 recipes that prove eating healthy can be simple and delicious. The Heart-Healthy Firefighter Resource Guide offers all of the information and tools you need to get and stay on the road to heart-health, including eating right. These resources and more are available online at

Your diet is an important factor in controlling cholesterol. Cholesterol is a naturally occurring chemical in your body, but too much - or not enough - can increase your risk of heart disease. A healthy, low-fat eating plan, combined with regular physical activity, is key to heart-health. Foods high in soluble fiber, like oatmeal, beans and peas, barley, and many fruits and vegetables (such as apples, oranges, and carrots) can help lower cholesterol levels.

To maintain a healthy diet, remember the ABC’s of nutrition: Aim for Fitness, Build a Healthy Base, and Choose Sensibly.

Aim for a healthy weight by balancing the calories you eat with physical activity. Do 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity most days or every day, and make physical activity part of your daily routine.

Build a healthy base by using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid guide to help make healthy food choices that you can enjoy. Build your eating pattern on a variety of grains, fruits, and vegetables, including several servings of whole grain foods daily, such as wheat, brown rice, oats, and whole grain corn. Enjoy at least 2 servings of fruit and at least 3 servings of vegetables each day. Choose dark-green leafy vegetables, orange fruits and vegetables, and cooked peas and beans often; choose foods from the milk and the meat and beans groups each day; and make low-fat choices. While it is fine to enjoy fats and sweets occasionally, the key is moderation. To learn more about the food group amounts that are right for you, go to

Choose sensibly by watching portion sizes and monitoring ingredients. If you are eating out, order small portions, share an entrée with a friend, or take part of the food home for later. Check product labels on food at home to see how much food is considered to be a serving, as many items sold as single portions actually provide two servings or more.

Before going grocery shopping, have a snack and take a list so that you will not be tempted to buy items that you do not need. Start on the outside aisles (produce and dairy) which usually contain the healthiest, freshest items. Sugary, processed foods are usually kept in the center aisles of the store. Use the Nutrition Facts Labels to help choose foods lower in total and saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and look for foods with fewer ingredients, which usually means less added sugar and preservatives. Limit your use of solid fats, such as butter and hard margarines, and instead opt for vegetable oils or heart-healthy olive oil, as a substitute. In the dairy and meats sections, choose fat-free or low-fat types of milk products, and lean meats and skinless poultry. If you need vegetables to keep for later, choose frozen instead of canned. Frozen vegetables retain more nutrients and have much less sodium than most canned produce.

For more information on National Nutrition Month®, visit the ADA web site at Learn more about the Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program and access nutrition facts, recipes, and other resources online at It takes a person with heart to be a firefighter. Keep it strong.

* Information courtesy of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and the National Volunteer Fire Council.



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