February is American Heart Awareness Month. Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.? According to the Centers for Disease Control, about every 25 seconds an American will have a coronary event. Besides unmodifiable risk factors that cannot be changed such as age, hereditary, ethnicity, there are precautions you can take to help reduce your risk by altering lifestyle and dietary habits. For instance, certain diseases and conditions can put the heart at risk for a coronary event such as smoking (and second-hand smoke), being physically inactive, having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol levels, along with being obese, and having an unhealthy diet.
A whole foods diet with brightly colored fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and oils, and whole grains supplies the body with adequate vitamins, minerals, and fiber for a healthy heart. High triglyceride and cholesterol levels can build up in the arteries, which can disrupt blood flow and lead to blockages. Soluble fiber found in fruits including pears, apples, and citrus fruits, along with oats and oat bran, barley, beans, and legumes has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels.
Besides soluble fiber, vitamins and minerals play an important part in keeping the heart healthy. A refined diet high in excess sugar, sodium, processed foods and preservatives can lead to excess inflammation throughout the body, which suppresses the immune system. Leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard, kale and collard greens are high in calcium, magnesium, vitamins A, C, and K, which are full of antioxidants and nutrients to help reduce inflammation and improve health.
Lastly, healthy fats, whole grains, and lean protein choices help lead the way to a healthy heart. When choosing fats and oils, avoid “hydrogenation or partially hydrogenated” from the ingredient list, as these have been shown to clog up the arteries. These hydrogenated fats may also be listed on the ingredient label as trans fat, which may be found in margarines, shortenings, or packaged crackers and baked goods. Instead choose olive or canola oil or plant-based margarines that are trans-fat free. In addition, opt for lean protein sources that are low in saturated fat and high in protein such as beans or legumes. When purchasing animal protein sources, look for skinless poultry, lean red meat, or fish. Begin to incorporate whole grains such as quinoa, wild rice, barley, or steel cut oats over refined white flour products.
And remember, small modifications have a big impact over time leading to a healthier heart!
In Summary, Healthy Lifestyle Change Tips/Reminders
- Choose lean cuts of poultry or meat w/o the skin
- Avoid partially hydrogenated oils/trans fat
- Choose low-fat dairy products
- Aim for less than 300 mg of cholesterol a day
- Choose foods lower in salt/sodium
- Cut back on added sugars found in food and beverages
- Drink alcohol in moderation
(no more than two drinks for men and one for women)
- Pay attention to portion sizes