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Dates to remember

March 13, 20, 27: Caring for Children: First 5 Years, Mandan

March 21: Nourish Your Brain, Morton Mandan Public Library

March 26: Parents Forever, Mandan

March is National Nutrition Month. That’s a great time to commit to a healthful lifestyle and practice your label reading skills.

Eating right starts with what you put in your shopping cart. Making smart food choices can be confusing with all the health claims, messages and logos on food. Use these tips to help you make heart-healthy choices at the grocery store:

• Read all food labels. Ingredients and nutrient content can differ depending on the brand and the way the food was prepared. Compare labels of similar foods. Choose the item with the lowest amounts of sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugars. Sodium and added sugars can go by many different names. High-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, agave nectar, barley malt syrup or dehydrated can juice are all names for added sugars. Sodium is present in table salt, sodium benzoate, disodium or monosodium glutamate (MSG) and many others.

• Choose frozen or canned produce when fresh is not available. Choose canned fruit packed in water, light syrup or its own juice. With canned or frozen vegetables, choose the product with the lowest sodium content. Heavy syrups and sauces can add unwanted ingredients to your fruits and vegetables.

• Choose whole-grain foods. Many products claim to be whole-grain foods but really are not. Look for the words “whole grain” as the first item in the ingredients list. This includes crackers, cereals, tortillas, pasta and bread.

• Look for the Heart-Check mark. This is a quick and easy way to identify if foods are part of a heart-healthy eating plan. This labeling means that the product is certified by the American Heart Association to meet specific requirements.

Are these heart-healthy foods in your cart, cupboard or refrigerator?

• Leafy greens. Kale and spinach are easy to find and can be used in many recipes. They are a good source of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

• Extra-virgin olive oil. This is a heart-healthy alternative to butter. It promotes healthful cholesterol levels and could protect you from a heart attack or stroke.

• Tomatoes. Tomatoes are very versatile, can be added to many dishes and are high in antioxidants.

• Fish. Salmon and tuna are examples of heart-healthy fish. They are high in Omega-3 fatty acids that may reduce inflammation, decrease triglyceride levels, reduce blood clotting, and decrease stroke and heart failure risk.

• Grapes. Grapes are high in antioxidants and they contain phytochemicals, which provide anti-inflammatory effects that help the cardiovascular system.

• Nuts. Almonds and walnuts are among the heart-healthy nut choices that have been studied. They have been shown to lower the levels of total cholesterol and increase good (HDL) cholesterol.

• Beans. Beans can be canned or dried. They are high in fiber, fat free, and rich in calcium, iron and protein.

• Whole grains. Whole grains provide your diet with more fiber and are more filling than white flour products.

• Quinoa. Quinoa is a great source of protein and fiber. Put on top of salads or mix with beans or vegetables.

Preparing heart-healthy meals for your family doesn’t need to be difficult. The Family Table, an initiative of the North Dakota State University Extension Service, has resources at to help you plan and prepare healthful meals.

Join the challenges and sign up for an electronic newsletter with recipes and tips. Follow the program on Facebook for more tips, meal plans and ideas for getting conversations going during family meals.