Putney Central School was recently awarded a $4,600 grant for its Smart PE program from Consolidated Communication’s Consolidated Connects Educational Grant Program.

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During February, we naturally think of hearts because of Valentine’s Day. Building on that theme, February is also American Heart Month, a time to focus on heart-healthy habits.

If you think about it, Valentine’s Day is a reminder of the best motivation for taking care of your heart. A healthy heart helps to ensure that you will continue to be here, with and for the ones you love.

You’ve probably heard the statistics about heart disease. It’s a big problem. Heart disease and high blood pressure (hypertension) affect approximately 25 percent of the U.S. adult population. Without regular checkups and a healthy diet, hypertension can be a “silent killer,” damaging your blood vessels, and causing no obvious symptoms until the situation is dire, when strokes and deadly heart attacks occur.

With all of this in mind, taking care of your heart is clearly the perfect gift for your loved ones this February.

Maybe you’ve heard heart-healthy advice in negative terms – don’t eat this, don’t eat that. Taking care of your heart doesn’t have to be about deprivation. I’d like to share some food tips from the Grace Cottage Dietician that can make heart-healthy eating fun.

One way to love your heart is by lowering your cholesterol with fiber.

For example, you can start your day with a delicious fruit smoothie. The secret, heart-healthy ingredient here is beans. Yes, beans! Your heart loves fiber, and beans are an excellent source. Added to fruit and low-fat yogurt or milk (any kind), beans add creaminess, without adding fat. To celebrate love, try a red smoothie: white beans, frozen cherries or raspberries, banana, yogurt or milk, and a touch of maple syrup. Festive and delicious!

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Another way to get cholesterol-lowering fiber into your diet is with a breakfast of cooked (non-instant) oatmeal or pearled barley with dried fruit. These both take a little time to cook, so if that’s too much for your morning routine, make life easier by cooking up a big batch on your day off or in the evening, then portioning it out into muffin tins (heart-shaped, perhaps?) to freeze, then transferring the portions into a zip-lock bag – ready to heat up quickly in the microwave.

For lunch, add fiber by topping your salad with cooked lentils, chick peas, or hummus, and go light on the dressing. Or add pearled barley to soup instead of white rice or white pasta.

When you need a snack, your heart will love a handful of dry-roasted, unsalted nuts. Or have peanut butter or almond butter on bread (for fun, cut in heart shapes?).

Yes, your heart loves fiber because it binds with cholesterol in the digestive system and helps to drag the cholesterol out of the body.

Another way to care for your heart with food is to focus on making the fats in your diet mainly from plants instead of animals. If possible, avoid cooking with butter or lard and use a plant-based oil such as olive oil or peanut oil. Try exchanges such as: guacamole on a quesadilla instead of sour cream, peanut butter on toast instead of butter, walnuts in a salad instead of cheese.

A great sweet-heart dinner could consist of baked salmon, cooked barley salad with dried cherries, steamed chard or spinach, and baked apple or pear with cinnamon and a touch of maple syrup for dessert. Easy, delicious, and lots of fiber — your heart will love you for it.

During the month of February, we see hearts everywhere, reminding us to show love for the special people in our lives. What about giving your heart a valentine by choosing foods your heart loves? In return, your heart will love you back!

Jim Picone is a board-certified Physician Assistant. He earned his Physician Assistant degree with a Bachelor’s in Medicine from the University of Iowa. During his decades of professional experience, Jim has worked at the Central Vermont Medical Center, University of Vermont Medical Center, Green Mountain Orthopedic Surgery, and Valley Regional Hospital Orthopedic Group. He joined the Grace Cottage staff in 2019.