February is American Heart Month. Currently, one in four or about 610,000 Americans die each year from heart disease. This continues to be the leading cause of death.
Are you doing your part to keep your heart healthy?
Here is a check list that can help you determine if you are doing everything you can to prevent heart disease.
1) Are you eating more fruits and vegetables in your diet?
The American Heart Association recommends that half of your plate be fruits and vegetables. This will help you get your daily recommended intake, which is 2-3 servings of fruit (1/2 cup each) per day and 5-6 servings of vegetables (1/2 cup each). Fruits and vegetables don't have to be fresh, you can still receive benefits from canned and frozen fruits and vegetables.
2) Are you limiting saturated fat intake?
Over the years, we've heard conflicting information on fat and how much we should have in our diet. Fat is an essential nutrient, therefore we shouldn't eliminate it! We actually need to choose healthier fats such as almonds, avocado, canola oil, olive oil and salmon, which are highly concentrated in poly and mono-unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are found in higher concentrations in animal products, especially red meats and pork.
3) Are you choosing more whole grains versus refined starches?
Whole grains are great sources of dietary fiber and contain more fiber than most refined starches. Studies have found that including whole grains in your diet can help lower cholesterol, which can help lower your risk for heart disease.
4) Are you choosing lean proteins?
More chicken, fish and beans oh my! Choosing to have more chicken, fish and beans in your diet will mean less saturated fat in your diet. Research now suggests that saturated fat intake has a bigger impact on heart prevention than your dietary cholesterol intake. Saturated fat intake is going to be found primarily in your animal products, which is why is better to choose low fat dairy products and lean meats like chicken. You can also incorporate a meatless option once per week with beans, legumes and whole grains. One example is black bean burgers, high protein, fiber and low saturated fat.
5) Are you watching your sodium intake?
We can not eliminate sodium because it is an essential nutrient; however, you can monitor your intake. Many say "I don't add any salt to my food," which is great! However, 75% of our sodium intake does not come from the salt shaker, but rather processed and restaurant foods. Look for no salt added canned and frozen goods, ask for sauces and dressings on the side and keep the salt shaker off the table to jump start a lower sodium intake.
6) Are you exercising regularly?
There is no argument, exercise can help keep our blood pressure down, lose weight or maintain weight, lower triglycerides and cholesterol. Find something you enjoy so it will become a part of your routine. If you don't enjoy your workout you're less likely to continue it. It is recommended to exercise with moderate intensity for 150 minutes per week or vigorous intensity for 75 minutes per week.
7) Are you watching your weight?
Being overweight or obese is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease. Your risk can be determined based on your BMI (body mass index) or by measuring your waist circumference. If you're overweight, you're also at risk for higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol levels which are additional risk factors for heart disease. Studies have found that if you're overweight, just lowering your weight 5-10% can lower your risk. Think about if it's time to talk to a dietitian about losing weight or getting a handle on your nutrition.
You may be asking, but what about dietary cholesterol? The most recent research states that saturated fat intake, weight, and exercise have more of an impact on your cholesterol levels than the cholesterol in food. Overall, the key to heart disease prevention is eating a balanced diet with regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.