BY BARBARA MINTZ, MS, RD March is National Nutrition Month, but it is always a good time to look at your schedule and ask yourself if you are living a healthy lifestyle for your heart.
Did you know that cardiovascular disease is one of the most preventable diseases? Food and activity play a huge role in your cardiovascular health. It’s comforting to know that you can take control of your own health and lower your risk by making simple changes in your diet and exercise habits. March is National Nutrition Month, but it is always a good time to look at your schedule and ask yourself if you are living a healthy lifestyle for your heart. Sometimes, even the smallest changes can make the biggest difference. And what is a heart healthy diet? There is so much information out there, so many fad diets to choose from. Just take a deep breath and follow these simple tips to a healthier heart and a healthier you.
REDUCE YOUR INTAKE OF HIGH FAT AND HIGH CHOLESTEROL FOODS.
Foods such as egg yolks, red meat, and organ meats such as liver, are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Shell fish are also high in cholesterol, but they are low in fat. Foods high in fat and trans fats are more closely linked to raising your cholesterol than those high in cholesterol.
KNOW YOUR FATS.
Each is different and will have a different effect in your body. Fats like butter, cream, some salad dressings, and bacon are saturated fats. They will raise your cholesterol which leads to heart disease. Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature. Oils like olive, corn and sunflower are unsaturated. They help lower your cholesterol. Mono unsaturated fat are the best choice. These are found in olive, peanut and canola. This is a particularly good choice for heart health as they will help keep your HDL or your good cholesterol up while lowering your LDL or bad cholesterol. Fats are high in calories, although some are needed in our diet and are healthy. They should still be eaten in moderation. Fat has nine calories per gram and carbs and protein have only four calories per gram
AVOID ARTIFICIAL TRANS FATS.
These are fats that will raise your LDL or bad cholesterol. They are usually found in processed foods liked packaged baked goods, refrigerated dough products like biscuits and cinnamon rolls, coffee creamers and stick margarines, to name only a few. These are used in food manufacturing to extend shelf life and keep oils solid at room temperature. Learn how to read labels because a product may say that it has no trans fats but contain hydrogenated oils. Any fat that is hydrogenated is a trans fat.
CUT BACK ON YOUR SALT INTAKE.
If your diet is high in processed foods you are probably eating too much sodium. Canned foods like soups and vegetables are particularly high. The recommended amount daily is about 2000mgs. The average American eats over 5600!
READ AND COMPARE FOOD LABELS.
Don’t be fooled. Many food manufacturers make it very unclear when you are trying to see how much fat, sodium and calories you are eating. The number of servings can be a game changer and, unfortunately, it is in the fine print on many labels. Review how many servings the package contains and then look at the calories and fat per serving. Multiply the calories and fat by the number of servings you plan to eat.
EAT MORE FISH.
Not only is it a good source of protein, it is leaner than beef and certain cuts of poultry. Some oily fish such as salmon, tuna or mackerel have Omega-3 fatty acids which lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends two servings weekly of these omega 3 rich fish.
TRY CHIA SEEDS AND FLAX SEEDS.
You can get those essential Omega-3s from flax seeds and chia seeds. They are both good sources of fiber as well. Add some to your yogurt or cereal every day to increase your intake of Omega-3s. These are also a good choice for you vegetarians. Make sure you grind those flax seeds to get the benefit and refrigerate them to preserve their nutrients.
EAT MORE FRUITS, VEGETABLES, BEANS AND WHOLE GRAINS.
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber and nutrients called antioxidants that help fight heart disease. You need about two to three fruit servings daily and three to four vegetable servings. This is easier than you think. One large banana counts as two servings. Some foods such as oatmeal and oats, bran, barley and peanuts contain soluble fiber which help lower cholesterol and protect your heart. They also help keep you full. Adding these foods to you diet can help you keep your portion sizes under control, which can help you maintain a healthy body weight.
BAKE, BROIL OR GRILL YOUR FOODS.
This will help keep your fat intake lower, helping you keep both your body weight and your cholesterol down. And watch those portions. It is easy to supersize our meals in our fast food environment!
WATCH YOUR PORTION SIZES.
We live in a fast and convenient world where everything we eat on the go is supersized. Average portion sizes have grown substantailly over the years. Whether you are cooking or eating out, remember that an appropriate three to four ounce portion of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. One cup of pasta or rice is about the size of a woman’s fist.
WATCH THOSE SWEETENED BEVERAGES.
They are the number one reason why there is an obesity epidemic in both children and adults, and obesity is very strongly linked to heart disease. One 20 once soda, sweetened ice tea or even 100 percent juice has the equivalent of about 17 teaspoons or 67 grams of sugar. The maximum amount we should have daily is about 40 grams or about 6 teaspoons. Watch those lattes too! Not only do they have a lot of sugar, but they can have a lot of fat.
ADD VEGETARIAN DISHES TO YOUR WEEKLY MENU.
Plant protein has very little fat and no cholesterol. Only animal products like milk, eggs, meat and cheese have cholesterol. Try and limit your servings of those foods weekly, while increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
LIMIT ALCOHOL INTAKE.
One drink per day for women and two for men is recommended. Red wine in moderation is a good choice
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST, STAY ACTIVE.
Exercise helps lower your cholesterol and blood pressure as well as your weight. It also helps elevate your mood, keep you motivated and staying on that journey to health and wellness.•
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HEALTHY CHOICES, HEALTHY LIFESTYLES
Barbara Mintz, MS, RD, Vice President of Healthy Living and Community Engagement for Barnabas Health, New Jersey.