Happy American Heart Month! Each February, we bring awareness to the importance of a healthy heart. Why is this important? Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. It is true that there are genetic components of heart disease, but lifestyle is also a major contributing factor. This week, I did a presentation on heart health at Springfield Clinic’s “Girls Night Out.” Here are the top 4 takeaways…
1. Heart-healthy fats
When counseling patients on fat, I emphasize that fat is a macronutrient, which means we need it for survival! We need healthy fats to be healthy! I always encourage olive oil as the plant-based oil of choice. Next to olive oil, I recommend real butter. Yes, real butter! Butter is actually made from whole ingredients that we can source, versus margarine and other liquid oils that have preservatives. I encourage patients to use olive oil as often as possible.
Our bodies actually need sodium in appropriate amounts for nerves and proper muscle function. It is pretty safe to say that the majority of Americans consume more sodium than needed. Surprisingly, high salt intake does not come from the salt shaker! Sodium is found in fast food meals, sit-down restaurant meals and processed foods filling the shelves at the store. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg of sodium daily for optimal cardiovascular health. For comparison, there is close to 1,500 mg sodium in 1 package of ramen noodles! A higher intake of salt is correlated with higher blood pressure. Salt attracts water into the bloodstream, which increases the volume of blood pumping. Imagine increasing the water supply to a hose. The increased water supply causes increased pressure as water moves through the hose. I recommend patients read nutrition labels for sodium information if they have heart disease or have a family history.
3. Vegetables and fruit
Dietitians do not recommend the ideal 5 cups of vegetables and fruit daily for no reason! Higher intakes of vegetables and fruit are associated with better cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Fruit and especially non-starchy vegetables contain fiber, which helps lower cholesterol. Higher intakes of vegetables and fruit are also shown to improve blood pressure.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of physical activity each week. This is about 30 minutes 5 x per week. Regular physical activity is shown to increase HDL or “good cholesterol” and improve blood pressure. Two days per week of weight-bearing exercise is also encouraged to improve/maintain muscle mass.
Visit www.heart.org to find helpful tips on losing weight, how to keep weight off, and recipes that are heart-healthy!
For healthy heart recipes, visit our Health Library.