We all know someone who is affected by heart disease. Maybe it’s a parent, grandparent, spouse, child, friend or even you who has suffered from heart disease or a stroke. February is American Heart Month and a good opportunity for each of us to educate ourselves about heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,200 deaths per day.
High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking are key heart disease risk factors for heart disease. The CDC notes that about half of Americans (49 percent) have at least one of these three risk factors.
When we recognize our risk factors, we can take steps to manage them. Some risk factors, such as age and family history, are not under our control. Other habits, such as smoking, food choices and level of physical activity, can be modified, with some effort.
Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including diabetes, overweight and obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use. Conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure can be managed through diet, physical activity, medication (as needed) and regular monitoring by a health-care provider.
Diet affects blood cholesterol levels. Eating a diet high in fat, especially saturated and trans fat, tends to raise blood cholesterol levels.
Food labels provide lots of information about your food choices. Compare fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, fiber and sodium contents of different foods. If a product package says the product is “heart healthy” or carries a health claim, the food has to meet specific regulations.
Eating more fruits and vegetables daily is associated with improving health. Visit www.choosemyplate.gov for nutrition serving recommendations for adults and children.
Fiber, especially soluble fiber found in barley, oatmeal, legumes such as cooked beans and produce such as carrots and apples, may reduce blood cholesterol levels if eaten regularly and in combination with a diet low in saturated fat.
Make at least half your grains whole grains. Wholewheat bread and oatmeal are examples of whole-grain foods. Look for the “whole grain” seal on product packages, look for a health claim, or look at the ingredient label for “whole grain,” “whole wheat” or “whole grain oats” as the first ingredient.
Substituting polyunsaturated fats (such as sunflower, corn and soybean oils) or monounsaturated fats (such as olive, canola and peanut oils) for solid fats can help improve your cholesterol profile.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, bass and halibut, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered more heart healthy. Fish oil dietary supplements don’t appear to have the same effect.
Tofu, soymilk, soy-based burgers and soy nuts are examples of soy-based foods. Soy-based foods can carry a health claim linking soy to improved heart health if the foods meet certain criteria.
Physical activity is imperative to maintaining your heart health. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as walking, on five or more days of the week. Three 10-minute segments count. Regular physical activity strengthens the heart, improves oxygen delivery to tissues, may lower blood pressure and may increase HDL cholesterol levels.
Heart disease and stroke affects all of our lives, but we can all work together in preventing and ending it.
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(Sources: NDSU Extension Publication FN-589, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).