February is American Heart Month! Heart disease still remains the leading cause of death among Americans. According to the American Heart Association, 1 person loses their life every 39 seconds to heart disease, and women are at a higher risk. What you eat, along with lifestyle behavior modifications have a huge impact on your heart health. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working together to prevent one million heart attacks or stokes by 2016 with their “Million Hearts Campaign.”
Four foods you should avoid or limit for a healthy heart are:
- Trans fats
- Saturated fats
The availability and increased consumption of these foods has lead to increasing trends in high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart related conditions, obesity and Type II diabetes. Make 2012 the best year yet by avoiding these foods and increasing your cardiovascular exercise!
1.) Trans fat: this is the worst kind of fat because it lowers your HDL or “good cholesterol” and raises your LDL or “bad cholesterol.” Skip foods containing “partially hydrogenated oil” or “hydrogenated oil” which can be found in baked goods, packaged snacks, crackers, and some margarines.
*Tip: shop the perimeter of the grocery store and buy FRESH, whole foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low fat or non fat dairy products or unsweetened dairy alternatives such as unsweetened almond milk, etc.) instead of shopping in the middle aisles where most of the processed foods and sweets lie.
2.) Saturated fat: This fat also raises your LDL “bad cholesterol.” Butter, sour cream, mayo, fatty cuts of meat and full fat dairy products contain saturated fat.
**Tip: while cooking, swap vegetable oil with olive or canola oil and swap fatty cuts of meats with lean poultry, fish, or beans.
3.) Salt: The average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium per day. If you’re 51 years or older and salt sensitive (i.e. due to diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or high blood pressure), I recommend you reduce your salt intake to 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
**Tip: buy low sodium soups, wash canned beans and canned vegetables with water and limit salted, cured, fermented foods and/or frozen dinners which are much higher in salt.
4.) Added sugar: The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is 13-16 teaspoons more than you need. The American Heart Association recommends women limit added sugars to less than or equal to 6 teaspoons per day and men consume less than or equal to 9 teaspoons per day. To give you an idea, one can of cola contains a whopping 8 teaspoons of sugar! Can you imagine that 3 sodas alone can add up to 24 teaspoons of sugar per day, not including any other sugars from sweet, white flour carbohydrates or other foods.
**Tip: replace white, refined sugar with natural sugars, which can be found in fructose (fresh fruit) or lactose (low fat or non fat dairy).
Some of the best foods to fight heart disease are fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, fiber (preferably soluble fiber found in steel cut oatmeal or apples), omega 3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish and flaxseeds or walnuts), and probiotics (containing live active cultures). For example, I recommend consuming whole grains containing greater than 3 grams of fiber per serving, and pairing each meal with a small serving of fruit (berries, pomegranates, apple) or vegetable (tomatoes, dark leafy greens, beans). A great way to add probiotics to your diet is to add Greek yogurt or kefir with breakfast or as a mid morning snack. Fish high in omega 3 fatty acids (i.e. salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines) is a lean protein that you can substitute for the fatty meats at least 2-3 times per week. If you’re vegetarian, a krill oil supplement is a great way to get your omega 3’s in!