Nutrition and Weight Loss with Amy Lee MD | UCLA Center for Human Nutrition
7 Things a Dietitian Wants You to Know About Being Heart Healthy
What you don't know about heart health may surprise you.
By Kelly Kennedy, RD
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You’ve heard the statistics: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States, with more than half a million people dying of the disease each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease — and about half of Americans have at least one of these issues.
The good news? Heart disease is largely preventable and manageable through diet and lifestyle changes. But knowing what’s most important to focus on (diet? exercise?) can feel overwhelming. Read on to learn what really matters when it comes to heart health so you can keep your ticker in top shape.
1. Cholesterol Is Not the Enemy
Contrary to what you may have heard in the past, the cholesterol in foods (known as dietary cholesterol) does not necessarily raise your level of blood cholesterol. In fact, recent studies have found that for the majority of people, dietary cholesterol has very little, if any, impact on blood cholesterol levels, and the recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol was actually removed from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The biggest influence on blood cholesterol level is the mix of fats and carbohydrates in your diet — not the amount of cholesterol you eat from food, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. The bottom line? Eggs and shrimp are back on the menu!
2. Fat Can Be Your Friend
While “bad” saturated and trans fats still need to be limited as much as possible, healthy unsaturated fats like those found in olive oil and avocados are good for heart health. Another type of fat with super powers? Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish such as salmon. Omega-3s may help to reduce inflammation in the body, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, and decrease stroke and heart failure risk, according to the Mayo Clinic. So make healthy fats a regular part of your diet. Just remember that even healthy fats are high in calories, so moderation is key.
3. Fat-free Dairy Is Still King
Recently, there’s been a lot of hype about switching to whole fat dairy. To set the record straight, this is not advised by registered dietitians. The reason? The fat in dairy foods is unhealthy saturated fat, so it’s still best to opt for fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) dairy whenever possible.
4. You Should Still Avoid the Salt Shaker
Cutting back on sodium is crucial for lowering blood pressure and, in turn, improving heart health. Banning the salt shaker from the table when you eat and when you cook is a great first step, but it’s also important to be aware of the hidden sources of sodium in foods. Processed, canned, and prepared foods are notorious for being loaded with salt. One can of soup, for instance, can put you close to the 2,300 milligrams of sodium limit for the day! Limiting processed foods as much as possible is good advice for anyone to follow, but for those with high blood pressure, it's even more crucial.
5. Carbohydrates Count, Too!
When it comes to heart health, fats and sodium usually take center stage, but it's equally important to keep carbohydrates in check, too. Unhealthy refined carbohydrates and simple sugars (found in white bread and pasta, sugary beverages, desserts, and more) can contribute to heart disease by causing inflammation and damage to artery walls. So cast aside the sugary cereals and cookies and opt for whole grains like steel-cut oats, and healthy sweets like apples, instead. Your heart will thank you!
6. Sitting Is the New Smoking
Diet is incredibly important when it comes to improving heart health, but it isn’t the only piece of the puzzle. In fact, a meta-analysis of 47 studies published in January 2015 in theAnnals of Internal Medicinefound that independent of diet and exercise, sitting regularly can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cancer, and, of course, heart disease. The moral of the story? Limit the amount of time you spend sitting each day, and get up and move around often if you sit at a desk all day.
7. It’s Okay to Ask for Help
Making healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy foods and exercising, can go a long way toward improving heart health — but they can’t always fix everything. If you have some of the markers of heart disease such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, work closely with your doctor to know when diet and exercise is enough, and when medication may be necessary.
Remember: You don’t have to choose one regimen over another.
Video: BH4U | 7 Things A Dietitian Wants You To Know About Being Heart Healthy
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