By Julia Lott, MS RD LD, Fresh ‘N Fit Cuisine
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Fortunately, many of the factors that contribute to heart disease can be controlled, such as nutrition and exercise. Furthermore, stress in your life can increase risk tremendously. The only causes of heart disease that can’t be controlled are age, gender, and family history.
So what does it mean to live a heart healthy life? When it comes to nutrition, it means consuming low fat, low sodium, and low sugar foods. A simple way to consume low fat foods is by having a diet that consists of lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and non-fat or lower fat dairy items. Additionally, consuming healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can contribute to improved heart health. Foods that contain healthy fats are fish, avocados, and nuts.
One major cause of heart disease is consuming a high sodium diet. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 77% of the sodium we consume is from packaged, prepared and restaurant foods. One way to decrease sodium in your diet is by making most of your food at home. Use as little salt as possible when cooking and preparing food, but do not have it on the table. Or even better, season food with herbs, spices, onions, peppers, and garlic instead of salt.
There has been a lot of buzz around sugar and heart health. According to a study by the Journal of the American Medicine Association Risk, death from heart disease is increased when consuming a sugar rich diet, regardless of age, BMI, sex, and physical activity level. Participants who took in more than 25% of their calories from sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those that include less than 10% added sugar in their diet. Many sources of added sugar come from sodas, pastries, ready to eat cereals, and alcoholic beverages. Opting for sugar free soda, soda water, and fruit and vegetables without added sugar will help to decrease sugar intake.
Another way to improve heart health is to increase consumption of fiber rich foods. Fiber can help lower blood pressure, decrease cholesterol levels, as well as may reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Good sources of soluble fiber are beans, oats, peas, barley, fruits and avocados. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, nuts, and fruit and vegetables. It is the rough matter found in the foods and it is not broken down by water and absorbed into the bloodstream. Instead it adds bulk to waste in the digestive system; which helps regularity and prevent constipation. Furthermore, according to a research study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, consuming more dietary fiber over a 9 year period lowered the risk of death from any cause. People who ate a fiber rich diet had a 50 % reduction in in risk of death from heart disease, infectious disease and respiratory disease.
So what does all this really mean to you? Your health is in your hands! All the contributing causes that lead to heart disease can be controlled by being mindful and knowledgeable about your food and lifestyle choices. If you haven’t already, take charge of your heart’s health and make a change to live a long heart healthy life!