Heart Health – Go Red!

As most of you probably know, February is Go Red For Women month funded by the American Heart Association. Heart Disease is the number 1 killer of women and this movement works to educate women about the misconceptions surrounding heart disease and to increase awareness of the risk factors associated with heart disease.

First off, know your risk factors:
1. High blood pressure
2. High cholesterol
3. Diabetes
4. Smoking
5. Being overweight or obese
6. Being physically inactive
7. Age 55 or older (but could strike younger!!!)
8. Family history
I think it is clear from that list that you need to KNOW YOUR NUMBERS: These should be done every 5 years starting at the age of 20.
1. Blood pressure (ideal is less than 120/80)
2. Cholesterol (total less than 200, LDL less than 100, HDL greater than 60)
3. Triglycerides (less than 150)
4. Body Mass Index (less than 25)
5. Waist Circumference (less than 35 for women and 40 for men)
6. Blood sugar level (less than 110)
To help get those levels within normal limits, it is important to focus on good nutrition.

• 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables and >3 servings of whole grains per day. Look for a variety of dark colored fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, sweet potatoes and carrots, and a variety of whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta or couscous, barley, millet, bulgur, oatmeal and kasha.
• 2-3 servings (6-9 oz) of fatty fish per week. Refer to this post on fatty fish.
• 25-35 grams of fiber per day. This is easier than you think, especially if you focus on getting enough fruits and vegetables, whole grains and high fiber cereals. Fiber will help to reduced your cholesterol levels and maintain good blood sugar control.
• Less than 30% of calories from total fat and less than 10% of calories from saturated fat. As we talk about in class, the best types of fats are monounsaturated fats because they will increase your good (HDL) cholesterol and decreased your bad (LDL) cholesterol. Sources of monounsaturated fats are olive and canola oils, olives, avocados and nuts, especially walnuts and almonds. Be sure to keep your diet low in saturated fat since it will decrease your good (HDL) cholesterol and increase your bad (LDL) cholesterol. Avoid high fat animal products and any fats that are solid at room temperature (stick margarine, butter, lard, shortening).
• Limit trans fats, in fact, avoid them! If you see partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient on the ingredient list, look for a different brand or a different product. Fewer manufacturers are adding them to foods now but do check crackers, chips, cereals, nut-butters (get all-natural/organic) and other processed foods.
• 300 mg or less of cholesterol per day. We used to think that cholesterol was the biggest culprit behind high blood cholesterol levels but saturated fat seems to be more of a problem. You still need to watch your cholesterol intake but the average American consumes between 200-400 mg per day, which is close to recommended. The biggest problem is saturated fat that will increase your bad cholesterol and decrease your good cholesterol.
• No more than 2400 mg of sodium per day. This is equivalent to about 1 tsp of salt. You really need to leave the salt shaker alone and look for low-sodium products. It may be a difficult transition as your taste buds get used to less salt but eventually they will adjust and you won’t miss it.
• No more than 1-2 glasses of alcohol per day (2 for men, 1 for women). Red wine has been shown to improve circulation in men and some new research suggests the same for women. The benefits end at one glass though so don’t over-do it.
• Limit sugar intake. Sweeteners are a big contributor of empty calories to the diet. Whether it be cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, molasses or maple syrups, they are all high in sugar and empty calories. Watch portion sizes and eliminate where possible.
• Possibly add soy (up to 25 grams of soy per day). Soy products can reduced your risk for heart disease by lowering your LDL cholesterol. It can also be a good substitute for animal products that can be high in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. Keep it to 4 servings or less than 25 grams per day to avoid any side effects of over-consumption.
• BMI between 18.5-24.99 and Waist Circumference 35 inches or less. Waist circumference is actually the better predictor of heart disease than BMI. Carrying extra weight around your middle will increase your risk for heart related illnesses. Losing weight will help to reduce your waist circumference.
• 30-90 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise plan. Once you have the OK, look for ways to be active and make sure to get your heart rate up!

Emily Fonnesbeck RD,CD