February is American Heart Month.

Heart health is impacted by many factors — some, such as genetics, that we’re unable to influence. There are also components, such as nutrition and activity level, that we can influence to some degree.

Many people are surprised by the significant and positive impact that small additions to the diet can make. For example, adding a serving of vegetables with dinner each evening or incorporating a heart-healthy fat, such as nuts, into a snack. Being proactive in adding or switching one or two foods on your plate that promote heart health doesn’t have to involve a drastic change in order to make a difference.

There are many food options that promote heart health. The four main categories to consider related to lifestyle include:

Fiber intake

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  • Vegetables and fruits (including a variety of types and colors; when possible, leave the skin on choices such as apples and potatoes to get the most fiber)
  • Whole grains (e.g., oats, brown rice, whole-grain bread/crackers/pasta, quinoa, corn/popcorn)
  • Beans and lentils
  • For most adults, aim for 25 to 38 grams of total fiber per day (typically around 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men, depending on individual size and needs)
  • Staying hydrated throughout the day, especially if increasing fiber intake

Types of fat

  • Many Americans get the majority of their fat intake from saturated fat sources (such as butter, fat from meat, fried foods, baked goods) and fall short in getting sources of unsaturated fat.
  • The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 10% or less of total food intake come from saturated fat.
  • It’s recommended that total fat intake make up 20% to 35% of daily calories. Check the percentage of saturated fat on labels to have a better idea of how much is in each serving.
  • To promote heart health, choose unsaturated fat choices instead of saturated fat when possible. Some examples include nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, canola oil and salmon.

Sodium intake

  • The American Heart Association recommends consuming 2,300 mg or less of sodium per day.
  • For most adults over 50, especially those with high blood pressure, it’s recommended to consume 1,500 mg or less of sodium per day.
  • Sodium needs differ for high-intensity athletes who are sweating often in their sport.

Staying active

For adults, the American Heart Association recommends aiming for:

  • At least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week OR 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week
  • Muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) at least 2 days per week

For children:

  • Ages 3-5: opportunities to move and play throughout the day
  • Ages 6-17: at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity activity per day
  • Aim for movement for children to be fun, part of playtime, and/or a sport they enjoy (rather than an obligation they have to do)

The recipe below is an example, from dietitian Ellie Krieger, of a way to take an old favorite and make it still delicious and a little more heart-healthy. It has veggies from the broccoli, no-salt-added broth, a surprise ingredient that offers fiber, and is lower in saturated fat than a traditional cheese-based soup.

Start with the options that are most realistic for you — small steps toward promoting heart health can make a big difference.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Serves 4-5

All you need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 large head broccoli, florets and tender part of stems, chopped (about 6 cups)

3 cups no-salt-added chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup canned, no-salt-added Great Northern or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

½ cup low-fat (1 percent) milk

1 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese (3 ounces), divided

1 teaspoon powdered mustard

½ teaspoon salt

All you do:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, stir in the onion and cook for about 4 minutes, until tender but not browned.

Add the broccoli, broth and beans; increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Let the soup cool for 15 minutes, then puree it in a blender in three batches, until smooth. Wipe out the saucepan as needed.

Return the blended soup to the saucepan over medium heat. Once the soup is bubbling at the edges, reduce the heat to low. Stir in the milk, ¾ cup of the cheese, the powdered mustard and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook until just warmed through.

Taste and add more salt as needed. Divide among individual bowls or deep mugs, and garnish with portions using the remaining ¼ cup of cheese. Serve hot.

Recipe source: Ellie Krieger (www.elliekrieger.com/recipe/broccoli-cheddar-soup)

Amanda Moder is a registered dietitian for Hy-Vee stores. This information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.