Choices for a healthy heart
Simple life changes can help your heart in a big way
It’s American Heart Month. I’ve written about heart disease many times and sometimes feel as though the topic has reached its saturation point, but after looking at the statistics on the number of people’s lives still affected by heart disease and knowing that it is still the leading cause of death in Americans, I see that it’s still worth talking about. Here is some basic information on what causes high cholesterol and heart disease and simple changes that can make a difference.
Your diet Eating too much saturated fat can cause high cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, buttery looking fat-like substance made in the liver and found most often in foods from animals, such as dairy products (cheese), eggs, and meat. Packaged foods that contain coconut oil, palm oil and cocoa butter are also saturated fats. If you see the words hydrogenated or trans fats in the list of ingredients on your food label, put the product back on the shelf — these fats will raise cholesterol. And don’t be mislead by foods that are labeled “cholesterol free.” Certain foods say they contain no cholesterol; but they may contain saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol.
Your weight Being overweight may increase increase triglycerides and decrease HDL, or good cholesterol. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood and most often increased by intake of sweets and alcohol. They are a major source of energy and the most common type of fat in your body. Any extra calories are turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells to be used later. Losing weight is the best way to lower triglycerides. Limiting fats and sugars, and not drinking alcohol is your best defense.
Exercise All aspects of good health deteriorate if you don’t exercise. This is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves – and the hardest! Lack of physical activity can significantly increase your odds of heart disease. Being overweight and inactive tends to increase your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol, exactly the opposite of what you want.
Age and gender After the age of 20, your cholesterol levels naturally begin to rise. In men, cholesterol levels typically level off after the age of 50. Cholesterol levels in women normally stay fairly low until menopause. A recent study published in December of 2009 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology said that as women approach menopause, many show an increase in cholesterol levels, which in turn increases risk for heart disease later on in life.
Family history Sky-high cholesterol may be genetic and inevitable for some, even if you eat right and exercise. That’s why it’s so important to have a baseline cholesterol test at age 20 and have follow-up tests at least once every five years. Finding the problem early allows you to take action before it’s too late.
Cigarette smoking Smoking can lower your HDL (good cholesterol), put you in a high risk group and kill you — enough said? A smoker’s risk of developing coronary heart disease is two to four times that of a non-smoker. Smoking also increases your risk of having a stroke.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle Take care of yourself. Don’t skip your annual check-ups. Get the recommended tests to determine your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Eat a healthy diet This may be a tall order for some. What works? Include more soluble fiber in your diet – everyday. I may sound like a broken record when it comes to the heart benefits of fiber – but, it does truly work! Soluble fiber is found in oats, barley, psyllium, peas, lentils, fruits and vegetables. How much? Shoot for 20 grams a day, but know that even three grams a day may be effective, along with a diet low in saturated fat.
Think about the types and amounts of fats you eat Oil, canola oil and high oleic sunflower oil are monounsaturated fats that will lower LDL, the bad cholesterol. In Wisconsin, we love butter — a saturated, artery-clogging fat. A good substitute is a mixture of half olive oil and half butter. Combined, this will give you less saturated fat and more of the heart healthier oils. And it’s always soft and spreadable. How much saturated fat is allowed in your daily diet? An allowance of 15 grams (about three teaspoons) a day or less is recommended for someone eating a 2,000 calorie diet. Look for saturated fat on your food label to guide you.
For more information: “Smart 4 Your Heart” by Margaret Pfeiffer