There was a song we used to sing: “The thigh bone is connected to the knee bone, and the knee bone is connected to the …” From that childhood song, I learned how interconnected our bodies are.

So, it’s not a surprise that we can preserve our brain health through a heart-healthy diet; heart health and brain health are interconnected. Protecting one helps protect the other.

There are many cases of a clot that forms in an unhealthy heart or diseased blood vessel and travels to the brain, blocks essential blood flow and causes a stroke, according to Dr. Ayan Patel, director of the CardioVascular Imaging and Hemodynamic Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston.

What connects the two is our arteries, veins and capillaries — the highway between the heart and brain.

So, what can we do to keep both our brain and heart healthy?

Let’s start with our diets. Even if you haven’t had heart problems, do this for your brain. Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.

Choose olive oil over butter. Go meatless sometimes. Build your plate around fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains. And avoid added sugars and refined grains.

It’s the small choices that really add up — choosing brown rice over white rice, whole-wheat bread over white bread, whole-grain crackers over buttery crackers.

In addition, it’s important to reduce our sodium intake. Most of us have put away the salt shaker, but the sodium to be concerned about is the sodium in processed and restaurant foods.

Eat less bacon, sausage and high-sodium deli meats, as well as less soy sauce and chips. If you use canned vegetables, choose the “no-salt added” or reduced sodium, and drain or rinse them to remove 50 percent of the sodium.

Excess sodium causes our bodies to retain extra water, which increases blood volume and, ultimately, blood pressure. Increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in potassium, helps lower blood pressure.

It can be a vicious cycle, but a good step forward is to think about what we’re eating. It really is all connected.


Q: To reduce my sodium, is garlic salt a good replacement for regular salt?

A: Not really. Garlic powder or fresh, minced garlic would be a better choice.

The American Heart Association recommends adults aim for no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. Most of us consume around 3,400 milligrams each day.

One-fourth of a teaspoon of regular salt has 575 milligrams of sodium. By comparison, one-fourth of a teaspoon of garlic salt has anywhere from 190 to over 400 milligrams of sodium, depending on the brand. Garlic powder, on the other hand, has hardly any sodium.

You can use all kinds of fresh herbs and spices to add flavor to food without using salt.

Wilted Greens with Warm Apple Vinaigrette

Here’s a great side dish or lunch salad that features fall’s harvest of apples. The recipe, from EatingWell, calls for “massaging” the greens until they are soft to make them more tender. Don’t worry; it works.


» 4 cups kale, coarsely chopped

» 2 cups curly endive, thinly sliced

» 2 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced

» 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

» 2 medium apples, coarsely chopped

» ½ cup cider vinegar plus 1 tablespoon, divided

» 1 tablespoon honey

» 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

» 3 tablespoons unsalted sunflower seeds, toasted

» 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted

» ⅔ cup crumbled blue cheese


Place kale, endive and Brussels sprouts in a large bowl, and massage the greens until they are soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add apples, and cook, stirring often, until warm, 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in ½ cup vinegar, honey and mustard, and cook until slightly reduced, about 1 minute.

Pour the mixture over the greens, and toss to combine. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 1 tablespoon vinegar, and toss again. Add sunflower seeds, walnuts and cheese, and toss again.


Serves 6 (1 cup each)

Per serving: 247 calories; 6 grams protein; 16 grams carbohydrates; 18 grams fat (4 grams saturated); 11 milligrams cholesterol; 4 grams fiber; 218 milligrams sodium

— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois, and the current president of the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at, and follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd. The opinions expressed are her own.