Learn to love your heart — control risk factors

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America.

About 92 million people in the United States have some form of heart/cardiovascular disease – that’s about 29 percent of the population. Many of these deaths and risk factors are in fact preventable.

Food choices alone can make a high impact on your hearts health, even if you have other risk factors.

Only a few other risk factors, such as age, gender and family history, cannot be controlled. Talk to your doctor to find out if you are at high risk for heart disease. 

You can prevent and control many risk factors of heart disease, such as high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure with lifestyle changes and medicines.

If you are at high risk for heart disease or already have heart disease, your first step should be to meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Together with your health care provider, your RDN can help you lower your risk or improve your existing condition by developing a personalized eating and lifestyle plan. 

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

Step 1: Make Healthy
Food Choices

• Use liquid vegetable oils and soft margarine instead of stick margarine or shortening.

• Limit Trans fats often found in foods such as cakes, cookies, crackers, pastries, pies, muffins, doughnuts and French fries. 

• Check the Nutrition Facts Label on food packaging to see all the ingredients listed. 

• Use small amounts of oils such as canola and olive oil in recipes and for sautéing. 

• Make salad dressings with olive or flaxseed oil. 

Step 2: Eat Foods Containing Omega-3 Fatty Acids

• Select oils like canola or flaxseed oil that provides omega-3 fatty acids. 

• Add walnuts to cereal, salads or muffins. Try walnut oil in salad dressings, too. 

• Some chickens are given feed that is high in omega-3’s so their eggs will contain more as well. When you are buying eggs, check the package label.

Step 3: Reduce Salt (Sodium)

• Prepare foods at home so you can control the amount of salt in your meals as well as sugar. 

• Use as little salt in cooking as possible. You can cut at least half the salt from most recipes. 

• Add no additional salt to food at the table. 

• Check the Nutrition Facts Label for sodium and choose products with lower sodium content.

• Season foods with herbs, spices, garlic, onions, peppers and lemon or lime juice to add flavor. 

Recent studies have challenged if taking supplements is as effective as consuming the food sources. S

cientific evidence describing the advantage of omega-3 supplements on heart disease risk for people who don’t actually have heart disease is also limited.

Consult a health professional to determine if you would benefit from an omega-3 supplement. 

Do you have too much Omega-3? Given the fact that many of our foods are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, it is possible to get excess amounts of it if you take additional supplements.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advise that consumption of more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day may cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms.

A small risk of increased bleeding, people who take anti-platelet agents or anticoagulants also take fish oil supplements with more than 3 grams of EPA and DHA.

In summary, remember to feast on fish at least twice a week and regularly include omega-3-rich plant sources, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts, in your diet. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements should not be taken without a physician’s supervision. 

To lower your risk of heart disease or to manage your existing disease, try these tips for preparing meals. 

Limit Saturated and Trans Fat: 

• Include plant foods as sources of protein, including soybeans, pinto beans, lentils and nuts. 

• If you eat meat, select lean cuts of beef and pork, especially cuts with “loin” or “round” in their name. 

• Cut back on processed meats high in saturated fat, such as hotdogs, salami and bacon. 

• Bake, broil, roast, stew or stir-fry lean meats, fish and poultry. 

• Drain the fat off cooked, ground meat. 

• When you make a stew or soup, refrigerate leftovers and skim off the fat with a spoon before reheating and serving. 

• Eat fish regularly. Try different ways of cooking such as baking, broiling, grilling and poaching to add variety. 

• Replace higher-fat cheeses with lower-fat options such as reduced-fat feta and part-skim mozzarella. 

• Thicken sauces with evaporated fat-free milk instead of whole milk. 

• Move toward using lower-fat milk and yogurt. Start with 2-percent products, then move to 1-percent and finally to fat-free to adjust to the new taste. 

By making healthier food choices such as avoiding Trans fats and choosing to eat more foods with omega-3, your heart can have good health and risks of heart disease may lessen. Always discuss any supplements or diet changes with your physician before making the change. Eating well keeps your heart well. 

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