Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in America. While we may not be able to control risk factors like age, gender or family history, we do have some control over our behaviors. In fact, nutrition and lifestyle modifications are your best weapons against heart disease.
Here are some tips to support your heart and decrease your risk:
Know your numbers: Keeping tabs on a few key lab values is beneficial to help you monitor risk factors and symptoms. Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dl. LDL, the bad cholesterol, ideally should stay less than 100 mg/dl. HDL, the good cholesterol, should be greater than 40 mg/dl for men and greater than 50 mg/dl for women. And triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dl.
Maintain a healthy weight: Minor weight loss of just 5 percent improves overall quality of life and decreases risk factors for many chronic diseases including heart disease. Focus on portion sizes and balancing calories taken in with calories expended in exercise. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories but high in nutrients, fiber and antioxidants, so they can help you meet your weight loss goals.
Control cholesterol and blood pressure: Research now shows that overall saturated fat intake is the primary culprit for high cholesterol. Try to limit saturated and trans fats, which are solid at room temperature and more likely to clog arteries. Unsaturated fats are found in fish, seafood and plant oils and can actually help to protect the heart. For high blood pressure, watch your sodium. Processed and restaurant foods contribute most of the sodium in the typical American diet. Try preparing more foods at home so you can control the amount of salt added.
Increase your activity: Regular physical activity can help to lower blood pressure, manage stress and control weight. Check with your doctor first, then start small with low to moderate intensity exercise for just 10 minutes at a time to enjoy these benefits.
ELIZABETH HALL, MS, RDN, LDN, Corporate/Retail Registered Dietitian, Food City