February is American Heart Month

source: choosemyplate.gov

Public Health Community Advisory – February is a time to promote optimal nutrition and a heart-healthy lifestyle in our community. Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. A balanced, nutritious diet is a cornerstone to decrease blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, the major causes of heart disease. A key to a heart-healthy diet is consuming food low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium, and high in fiber and omega 3 fatty acids.

Simple changes practiced every day make a big difference in the long run. When shopping for groceries, consumers should focus on buying fruits and vegetables (varying the colors of dark-green to red/orange vegetables) and beans and peas. Choosing lean meat and poultry, trimming the fat, enjoying plant proteins, selecting low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and reducing intake of trans fat in margarine and baked goods are all healthy choices. Also, select food low in salt and sodium to decrease chances of developing high blood pressure, especially if there is a family history of the disease. Read the food label to recognize the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium in the product, and make healthy selections accordingly. Substitute healthy oils for margarine, butter, or shortening when cooking. To help decrease blood cholesterol, choose whole grains such as whole-grain bread and pasta or brown rice. Reduce intake of added sugar, solid fat, and refined grains such as white bread and rice. Eat a variety of seafood including fish and shellfish at least twice a week; it contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce heart disease, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And always follow the food safety principles (Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill).

Leading a healthy lifestyle also means engaging in moderate physical activity, managing stress, maintaining healthy weight, and avoiding smoking. Take advantage of the free healthy-heart screenings offered periodically at health fairs for blood cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, and blood glucose, and follow your doctor’s instructions.

A healthy heart starts with picking one simple change to practice. Also look for the Heart-Check Mark icon , indicating that a product has been certified by the American Heart Association.

This article was written by Ghada Soliman, MD, PhD, RD, LMNT, an associate professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health. Her research includes effects of dietary fat saturation, carbohydrate, and fiber intakes on blood cholesterol and heart disease.