The holiday season brings with it more demands on our already busy lives. While it is easy to get caught up in the frenzy, take a minute to reflect on a few simple strategies that can help to keep your heart healthy for a lifetime. The American Heart Association offers these recommendations for a healthier heart:
1. Balance calorie intake and physical activity to achiever or maintain a healthy weight. To control calorie intake, we need to raise our awareness of the calorie content of the food and beverages we are consuming. Read the food label on packaging and nutrition facts provided from restaurants. All adults should accumulate at least 30 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
2. Consume a diet rich in vegetables and fruit. These foods are high in nutrients (protection from disease) and low in calories. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and look for deep dark color. Go easy on juices.
3. Choose whole-grain, high-fiber foods. Both soluble and insoluble fiber has been shown to decrease risk for heart disease. A diet rich in soluble fiber has also been shown to produce modest decreases in LDL cholesterol. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, beans, and apples. Aim for 20-30 grams of total fiber per day.
4. Consume fish at least twice a week. Fish, especially cold water fish, are rich in a fat that is good for us. This fat, known as omega-3 fatty acid, helps to lower triglycerides and promotes heart health in a number of other ways. Salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines are all good sources of omega-3 fat, but remember that all fish are naturally low in saturated fat and should be part of our regular diet.
5. Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats and cholesterol. The AHA recommends a limit of less that 10% of calories from saturated sources for most Americans, and less than 7% of calories if you have high cholesterol or heart disease. Limit intake of cholesterol to less than 300 mg. per day if you are otherwise healthy, or 200 mg. if you have high cholesterol or heart disease. Saturated fat and cholesterol are the fats of the animal world. Red meat, pork, whole milk and cheese are examples of foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Trans fats are found in foods with partially hydrogenated oils. Commercially fried foods such as french fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, as well as packaged foods like cakes and cookies are common examples.
6. Minimize your intake of beverages and foods with added sugars. Over the past few decades, the consumption of beverages and food with added sugars has risen dramatically. Studies show that individuals who consume large amounts of beverages with added sugars tend to consume more calories and gain weight. Increased amounts of sugars also affect triglycerides and blood glucose levels.
7. Choose and prepare foods with little or not salt. On average, as salt intake increases, so does blood pressure. Our current food supply is very high in sodium, which helps account for the large group of people battling hypertension. The upper recommendation for daily salt intake is 2300 mg.
8. If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation. Men should consume no more than 2 drinks per day, and women no more than one. A drink is defined as a 4-ounce glass of wine, a one and a half ounce shot of 80-proof spirits, or a 12-ounce bottle of beer. Overindulgence leads to many health problems including hypertension.
9. Avoid use of and exposure to tobacco products. There is overwhelming scientific evidence for the adverse effects of tobacco products and secondary exposure to tobacco smoke on cardiovascular disease, as well as cancer and other serious illness. Anyone who uses tobacco is strongly encouraged to stop. Concern about weight gain should not be a reason for continued use of tobacco products.
10. When you eat food that is prepared outside of the home, follow the AHA 2006 diet and lifestyle recommendations. Increasingly Americans are eating away from home and this is leading to health problems. There is a positive association between the frequency of food consumed at fast food restaurants and increased calorie consumption, weight gain, and increased blood sugar levels. Limit the frequency and control calories.