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Love your heart! A healthy approach to heart health

February 9, 2021

Guest blog: Caitlyn Freeman, RDN, LDN
Nutrition Expertise

As Valentine’s Day approaches, let’s all take a moment to reflect on our health and give our loved ones the ultimate gift of a healthy heart.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. Many of these deaths and risk factors are preventable. The lifestyles we choose have a large impact on your heart’s health, even if you have other contributing risk factors, such as family history, gender and age (males >45 years; females >55 years). You should talk to your doctor to find out if you are at high risk for heart disease.

You can help prevent and control many risk factors of heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure with lifestyle changes and medicines. Healthy food choices and an active lifestyle can have a big impact on your heart’s health.

Just take a few steps and you can be on your way to a healthier heart!

Step 1: Make Healthy Food Choices

Making healthy food choices starts by eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods. An easy way to assess if you are eating a variety is to think about “eating a rainbow.” Try to eat a different color of the rainbow with each meal, such as red raspberries, blue blueberries, green broccoli, orange sweet potato, etc.

Fiber: Fiber is beneficial in lowering cholesterol. As previously mentioned, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables will help you reach your fiber goals. Also incorporate into your meal planning beans, legumes, dried fruits and whole grains like oatmeal, which are all fiber-packed.

Sodium: Sodium can increase your blood pressure, making your heart work harder. An easy way to reduce sodium intake is to cook more at home! Look for low sodium recipes and purchase low sodium options at the store. One tiny teaspoon of salt has 2,325 mg of sodium in it, so be mindful of adding salt from the salt shaker at the dinner table. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day.

Fats:  Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. You can avoid trans fats by looking at nutrition labels and ingredients. Due to regulations, if the serving has less than 0.5 g of trans fat, it does not have to be specified in the nutrition panel. However, if you take a look at the ingredients and observe “partially hydrogenated oil,” this is trans fat – avoid this food!

The American diet is high in Omega 6 but low in Omega 3. Research indicates a ratio of less than 1:4 Omega 3 to Omega 6 is beneficial to heart health (the American average is 1:16!!). You can try adding salmon, lake trout, albacore tune, sardines, seaweed, flax or chia seeds twice a week or taking a supplement. Talk to your doctor or registered dietitian to find out if a supplement is right for you.

Step 2: Be Active

Regular, moderate physical activity lowers blood pressure and helps your body control stress and weight. Exercise also improves your mood. Start by doing what you can (and enjoy!) at least 10 minutes at a time. Always check with your physician before beginning a workout regimen.

Step 3: Manage Stress

Yoga, walking, jogging, meditation, taking a bath – whatever works for you – figure out a way to reduce life’s stresses! Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional if you do not know where to start. And always make sure to get enough rest!

Step 4: Don’t Smoke

Smoking increases your risk for heart disease. If you smoke, quit. Studies have shown that using a stop-smoking program really help. Try this resource