March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Good nutrition and lifestyle play big roles in keeping your heart healthy. And, since more men die from heart disease than any other disease, it is essential to take a look at these risks and take action to reduce these potential players in heart disease.
Being overweight or obese, eating fatty foods, smoking cigarettes and being inactive put you at greater risk for heart disease. Cholesterol levels and blood pressure are also important when considering risk factors. The following increase the chances of heart disease:
- High LDL "bad" cholesterol (greater than 100 mg/dL)
- High triglycerides (greater than 150 mg/dL)
- Low HDL "good" cholesterol (less than 60 mg/dL)
- High blood pressure (greater than 120/80)
Read on to learn how to protect your heart for life.
Taking Care of Your Heart
You can control your risk of heart disease by making smart food choices. Choose foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and heart-healthy fats. Limit your calories by filling up on high-fiber foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Fiber can help you lose weight and keep the pounds off by filling you up faster and for a longer time.
Fat Matters for the Heart
The amount and kind of fat you eat makes a difference. Fat should make up 20 percent to 35 percent of your total calories, with only 10 percent coming from unhealthy, saturated fat. Research shows eating too much saturated fat is not good for the heart. Foods such as bacon, red meat, butter and ice cream contain saturated fat.
You also should avoid trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils. These fats can clog arteries and raise cholesterol levels. Trans fats are found in commercial baked goods and fried foods.
Unsaturated fat is another story. It has been found to be beneficial for overall cardiovascular health. Foods including olive oil, canola oil, avocadoes, walnuts and almonds contain unsaturated fat, and help cholesterol levels by raising "good" HDL cholesterol and lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty-acids, a type of unsaturated fat, have been found to be helpful in preventing sudden death from heart attacks. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring, contain two types of omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The recommended intake for omega-3 fatty acids is 500 milligrams per day. That's about two 6-ounce servings of fatty fish per week.
Another type of omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) provides cardiac benefits. Flaxseeds and walnuts contain ALA. Eat 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed or 1 ounce (about a handful) of walnuts each day for heart health.
Fruits and Vegetables Matter
Eat less fatty meats and more plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Not only are fruits and vegetables low in calories and high in fiber and antioxidants, they can help keep blood pressure in check. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. What makes fruits and veggies so good? They are packed with potassium, a mineral that has been shown to lower blood pressure in clinical studies.
Aim for 4,700 milligrams of potassium every day for good blood pressure. That's at least 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables daily. The best picks are tomatoes, leafy greens, potatoes, bananas and squash.
Slow and Steady Weight Loss for Heart Health
In men, a 40-inch (or larger) waistline may be dangerous for health. Losing belly fat is important, with slow weight loss offering the best results.
Do not deny yourself everything at once. Try gradually subtracting about 500 calories from your daily intake instead. This can be done with more moderate portion sizes and limiting added sugars and fats. It doesn't take much to see results; with a 5- to 10-percent drop in weight, overall health improves.
Exercise Does the Heart Good
Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of regular, aerobic exercise most days of the week. Simple activities make a difference. This includes walking, jogging, biking and dancing. Participate in strength training, such as weightlifting, at least two to three times per week.