While heart disease continues to be the number one killer of Americans, there are simple ways to reduce your risks and stay healthy.  Nutrition, physical activity and other lifestyle factors can have a major impact on reducing the risk of heart disease.  Peanuts have earned a distinctive heart health claim from the FDA that states, “Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, including peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Since February is American Heart Month, we’re sharing five more smart ways to protect your health and your heart.

1)      Limit unhealthy fat and cholesterol

Peanuts contain mostly good fats and contain no cholesterol, making them an ideal food for reducing your risk of heart disease.  Bad fats such as trans-fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol should be limited or avoided.  The build-up of cholesterol in your arteries can put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.  However, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have heart-protective benefits.  According to Harvard School of Public Health, Dutch researchers analyzed 60 different trials and found that when polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, like those found in peanuts, were eaten in place of carbohydrates, blood levels of harmful fats (LDL) were decreased and levels of good fats (HDL) were increased.

2)      Increase fruit and vegetable intake

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans stresses the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables because they are naturally low in calories, they are major contributors of key nutrients, and increased intake is associated with decreased risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease.   Adding peanut butter to snacks like celery, or incorporating peanuts into vegetable recipes, add flavor, even more nutrition and excitement to these healthy foods.  This Curried Pumpkin Peanut Soup is a delicious, vegetable-filled recipe.  Also try these Homemade Peanut Granola Bars to get your day started off right!

3)      Select whole grains

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommends that half of the grains we eat should come from whole grain sources because they provide more nutrients, including iron, magnesium, selenium, B vitamins, and dietary fiber.  According to these guidelines, evidence has shown that consuming whole grains reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.   Fortunately, a whole grain Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich is the perfect lunch!

4)      Reduce sodium intake

According to the Mayo Clinic, high amounts of sodium can lead to increased blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg/day for healthy people. People over the age of 51 and those with a diagnosis of hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should limit their intake to less than 1,500 mg/day.  Peanuts are naturally sodium free, so they make a great snack – look for “unsalted” on the label.

5)      Control your portion sizes

Understanding and managing portion sizes is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health.  Calories, fat, and sodium can add up – even in low fat, low calorie or low sodium foods – if you are consuming greater than the recommended serving size.  Just a handful of peanuts makes a great snack! Control your portions by reading the food label and referencing a portion size guide such as, WebMD ‘s pocket guide to portion sizes.

February may be American Heart Month, but following these five tips can help keep your heart healthy all year long!