Today is Valentine’s Day, when many people give chocolates in heart shaped containers to those they care about. A lesser-known event associated with a certain type of diet and the heart is American Heart Month which we celebrate each February.
Cardiovascular disease, which can increase the risk of having strokes and heart attacks, is the number-one killer of Americans, leading to about one third of the deaths in the United States each year.
Eating a certain type of diet can increase the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Getting too much sodium, too much solid fat from saturated and trans fats, too much dietary cholesterol and not enough fiber are all dietary habits that can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Other lifestyle factors that can increase the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease include being overweight, not being active and using tobacco. Making dietary changes, losing at least 10 pounds if overweight, increasing activity by aiming for at least 150 minutes of exercise a week and quitting tobacco can help lower blood pressures and cholesterol levels, and decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Most Americans exceed the dietary sodium recommendation of 2,400 milligrams a day. To decrease sodium in your diet, limit adding salt to foods, read food labels for sodium content, dine out less, prepare more fresh foods instead of processed foods, and buy low-sodium, no-added salt and reduced sodium versions of food products whenever possible.
Diets high in saturated fat and trans fats can also increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. Some foods contain large amounts of saturated fat including high fat dairy products such as cheese and whole milk, butter, high fat meats and palm kernel oil, frequently found in chocolates and other snack foods.
To lower the risk for heart disease, decrease saturated fat intake by consuming lower fat and fat-free dairy products, using less butter, and choosing leaner meats such as skinless chicken breast, fish and 93-percent lean ground beef. Look for food products that do not contain palm kernel oil.
The American Heart Association recommends that 25 to 35 percent of total calories should come from fat, with saturated fat making up less than seven percent of total calories and the majority of fat coming from healthy fats such as olive oil and avocado.
Another type of solid fat still found in some foods is trans fat, found in shortening and stick margarines. Food products that list “partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil” on their food label contain trans fats. Some foods that still contain trans fat include certain baked goods, particularly grocery store baked goods, microwave popcorn, coffee creamers, tub frostings, refrigerated biscuits and other dough products and frozen pizzas.
Studies have shown that trans fats are even worse than saturated fat, increasing the likelihood of plaque buildup in arteries. This awareness of the dangers of trans fats led New York city and some European countries to ban trans fats. In November 2013 the Food and Drug Administration proposed requiring food companies in the United States to phase out trans fats from food products so trans fat may soon no longer be found in food products.
When cooking choose liquid oils that are low in saturated fat, such as safflower oil, which contains only one gram of saturated fat per tablespoon.
A certain type of unsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, has been scientifically proven to help lower cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fats include avocado, olive oil, canola oil, sesame seeds and many nuts, including pecans and almonds. Watch portions of healthy fats though, since one tablespoon of oil contains around 120 calories and one small handful, about one ounce, of nuts contains about 160 to 200 calories.
Dietary fiber from foods such as whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables can also help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Some fruits that can help lower cholesterol levels include citrus, berries (particularly blackberries), prunes, apples and pears.
Vegetables that have been shown to help lower cholesterol levels include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, okra and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots.
Heart healthy grains that help lower cholesterol levels include oatmeal, barley, rye and beans, including black beans and kidney beans, are not only a rich source of vegetarian protein but can also help lower cholesterol levels.
Consuming too much dietary cholesterol can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day. Dietary cholesterol comes from animal products such as dairy, meat and egg yolks and not vegetarian foods.
Some meats, such as fish and skinless chicken breast, contain less cholesterol than other meats, such as high-fat beef or liver. In order to meet the recommendation for dietary cholesterol watch meat portions- aiming for about two to three ounces of meat at a meal. Strive for meat servings that fit in the palm of the hand.
Egg yolks are also a major source of dietary cholesterol, with one egg yolk containing about 200 milligrams of cholesterol. Those who eat eggs on a regular basis and want to significantly lower dietary cholesterol intake should consume more egg whites, which have no cholesterol, and try to have whole eggs once a week or less.
Valentine’s Day is the time of year we think about loved ones. By watching portions of high fat Valentine’s snacks and eating a heart-healthy diet, everyone can increase the chances that they will be around for their loved ones as long as possible.
Those interested in improving their nutrition are welcome to contact me at the Raymond. W. Bliss Army Health Center by calling 533.9033.