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Prairie Fare: Pay Attention to Your Heart During American Heart Month

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
After considering that amount of daily effort, I think we should commend our hardworking hearts.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

When I was shopping the other day, I noticed all the Valentine’s Day cards and heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolate candy. February is a time when we express our affection for our friends, family and/or significant others through these thoughtful gestures.

We hope the colorful heart-shaped items serve as reminders to consider heart health, too.

Your beating heart really doesn’t look like a Valentine card heart, though. It’s a fist-sized pumping system with four valves and four chambers. Various blood vessels carry blood to and from your heart.

The heart circulates blood to every cell in your body as it pumps an average of 100,000 times per day. The pumping action carries oxygen and nutrients that we need to stay alive. Then the blood is pumped back to the lungs and gets “refilled” with oxygen. Fortunately for us, the process continues all day and night.

After considering that amount of daily effort, I think we should commend our hardworking hearts. During February, American Heart Month, pay a little extra attention to your heart.

Here are seven questions and goals based on current recommendations courtesy of the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7.” For answers to some of these questions, you may need to check with your health-care provider for measurements or lab tests. You can learn more about heart health by visiting

  • What is your smoking status? If you smoke, make “no smoking” your goal. Smoking damages your heart and blood vessels.
  • Do you maintain a healthy weight? A body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9 is the goal. For an online BMI calculator, visit the website of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at Using a calculator, determine your BMI by dividing your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared (height time height). Then multiply the total by a conversion factor of 703.
  • Are you physically active? Move toward the current recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity).
  • Do you eat a healthful diet? Aim for 4.5 cups of fruit/vegetables per day, 3 ounces or more of whole grains per day, at least two servings of fish per week, less than 450 calories from beverages with added sugars per week and less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
  • What is your blood pressure? The goal is for the upper number (systolic) to be less than 120 millimeters of mercury and the lower number (diastolic) to be less than 80.
  • What is your blood cholesterol? A blood cholesterol level less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is the current recommendation.
  • What is your blood sugar value? The goal is for your blood sugar to be less than 100 mg/dL.

Make heart-healthy meals filled with a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits part of your regular routine. Try this fiber-rich recipe, which includes chickpeas, spinach, tomatoes (or apples) and raisins. This may sound like an unusual combination of ingredients, but the result is very tasty. For more chickpea and lentil recipes, see this publication:

Chickpea and Spinach Curry

2 Tbsp. margarine (butter optional)

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tomatoes, chopped or 1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped

3 Tbsp. flour

3 Tbsp. curry powder (or to taste)

2 c. vegetable stock

2 c. chickpeas (cooked or canned – drained and rinsed)

2 c. spinach, loosely chopped

1/2 c. seedless raisins, soaked in warm water

Heat margarine in a large skillet. Add onions and saute until golden. Add garlic and tomatoes. Cook over low heat until tomatoes (or apples) are soft. In a small bowl, combine flour and curry powder; stir into onion mixture. Cook to blend into thick paste. Using medium heat, gradually add stock, chickpeas and spinach, stirring often. Add raisins and cook to desired thickness. Serve over rice or white fish.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 2 grams (g) of fat, 6 g of protein, 27 g of carbohydrate, 4 g of fiber and 240 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Jan. 27, 2011

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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