Heart Health: It's Up to You
By Wendy Beckman, MS, RD, CDN
February is a time to focus on hearts. It’s when we celebrate Valentine’s Day and the people we love—and it’s also National Heart Health Month. And the first Friday in February is Wear Red Day, a day to raise awareness about heart disease. So, let's get moving this month—because spring is coming, and we're not making any heart healthy improvements by sitting on the couch.
The Truth is Out There
Statistics show that cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke combined) kills about 2,300 people a day. According to the American Heart Association:
- Heart disease kills more people than all forms of cancer combined;
- Heart attacks affect more than 800,000 people each year;
- In the United States, someone has a heart attack approximately every 40 seconds;
- 83% believe that heart attacks can be prevented but aren’t motivated to make heart healthy changes;
- 72% of Americans don’t consider themselves at risk for heart disease; and
- 58% put no effort into improving their heart health.
Heart disease is hereditary, but the good news is that in most cases it can be preventable. Making heart healthy choices like not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, treating high blood pressure, exercising regularly, and getting regular checkups from your doctor can all decrease your risk.
Diet Makes A Big Difference
Source: Mayo Clinic
Eating a heart healthy diet can also decrease your risk of heart disease. But what does that diet look like? The American Heart Association has a list of heart healthy foods found in the grocery store. Read the list.
Focus on foods high in fiber
Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all fiber rich. Foods high in fiber can help eliminate excess cholesterol in the blood, decreasing your risk for heart attack and stroke. Leafy green vegetables and berries are high in antioxidants that can lower inflammation in the body, leading to heart attacks and strokes. Whole grains such as whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and oatmeal are also high in fiber and nutrients.
Limit unhealthy fats
Limit saturated fats like butter. Focus on mono and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in plant-based fats like olive oil and avocados. Saturated fats are found in animal products like high-fat meats and dairy products. Chose low fat or fat-free dairy products to cut down on saturated fats. Choosing lean protein like chicken, turkey, and fish can lower the unhealthy fats in your diet. All plant-based protein forms such as beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds are lower in saturated fat.
Choose low sodium options
Lower the amount of sodium in your diet. Excess sodium can increase high blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Choosing to flavor food with herbs and spices instead of table salt can lower your sodium intake. When selecting canned food items, look for lower or no sodium added options.
Keep an eye on portion sizes
Controlling your weight can lower your chance of developing heart disease. Eating large portions consistently over time can lead to weight gain. Quantities of foods from restaurants are also often large, so watch those, as well. When eating out, if the portion is too big, eat just half and take the other half home to eat the next day.
Make room for an occasional treat
Being too restrictive can set you up for failure. When eating a special treat, keep the portion size in mind. Look at the package to see the recommended amount per serving and then stick to that. Incorporating treats into your diet can be a way of avoiding bingeing when you have denied yourself an occasional indulgence. Remember, treats should be the exception, not the rule.
What heart healthy changes can you make this month? Make changes slowly over time so that next February, when it’s time to wear red for Heart Health Month, you will know that you have made long-lasting changes to decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Wendy Beckman, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian with the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA). She has over 13 years working as a Registered Dietitian in long term care and acute care settings and currently oversees the NYSOFA SNAP-Ed Nutrition Education program for older adults in New York State.
This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This institution is an equal opportunity provider. For more information on how to save time, save money and eat healthy, visit www.snapedny.org