American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month to help bring awareness to heart disease and motivate and encourage people to take care of their hearts! Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States?

Coronary artery disease, otherwise known as CAD, is the most common type of heart disease. Plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart is the cause of CAD. When plaque builds up in the arteries, they become narrow and stiff, limiting the blood flow to the heart muscle. Typically, many people don’t realize they have CAD until they have a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain/discomfort, weakness, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath.

First, let’s talk about triglyceride and cholesterol and why it is important to ensure these levels are within normal limits!

Triglycerides: Triglycerides are found in butter, oils, and foods high in saturated and trans-fat foods. When the body requires energy, triglycerides are released and broken down to create energy. When there are many triglycerides in the blood, they are stored as fat, leading to plaque buildup in the arteries that can cause problems, as discussed earlier.

Cholesterol: Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all cells. Cholesterol is carried through the blood through HDL and LDL proteins. LDL carries cholesterol to arteries and contributes to fatty buildups that narrow the arteries. HDL carries LDL away from the arteries to the liver to be removed from the body. LDL is found in high cholesterol and saturated fat foods like full-fat dairy foods, animal fats, lard, fatty meats, and processed meats. Try to consume more unsaturated fats such as avocados, nuts, and olive oil to help increase HDL levels.

Sodium: The recommended dietary allowance for sodium (salt) is around 2,300 mg daily. The average American consumes approximately 3,400 mg of sodium daily. Increased salt intake leads to elevated blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure causes stiffened and narrowed arteries, making the body work harder to pump blood throughout the body. As the heart works hard, the heart muscles will weaken over time.

Sometimes doctors and medical providers are quick to prescribe lower sodium and lower fat diets for patients without talking about the logistics or referring patients to a dietitian to aid with diet modifications. Figuring out how to reduce sodium intake and decrease fat intake can be tricky.

Tips for lowering salt intake throughout the day:

· Check the nutrition label to see how much salt is in the food product! Try to choose items with less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.

· Try using Mrs. Dash seasoning products. Mrs. Dash makes several spices/seasonings that do not contain salt. Mrs. Dash also now makes marinades like lime garlic, sweet teriyaki, and garlic herb that can also be used as salad dressings or dipping sauces. Mrs.

Dash makes seasoning packets such as sloppy joe, taco seasoning, fajita, beef stew, chili, and meatloaf. This seasoning can be purchased on Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, and Publix.

· Look for canned goods that say no salt added to limit the amount of salt. For canned goods that you already have at home, make sure to rinse thoroughly to remove any salt in the packaged liquid.

· Buy fresh when possible. When buying meat/poultry, make sure the product is not packaged in a marinade, brine, or saline. Look for lower sodium options for bacon/sausage and follow the serving size. When buying deli meat, opt for the fresh-cut at the deli as they contain lower sodium options. When purchasing frozen meats/poultry, look for options that are not mixed with sauces or sauces on the side so that you can control the amount added.

Tips for lowering fat intake:

· Trim away the fat! Cut off the skin of poultry and trim the fat off the meat. When choosing ground meats, select the meats that are lean in fat, such as 80/20, 85/15, or 90/10.

· Choose healthy fats that include omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, mackerel, flax/chia seeds, walnuts, canola, or soybean oil.

· Try to make half the grains consumed during the day whole grains. Whole grains contain fiber and are enriched with vitamins and minerals. Fiber slows digestion and will keep you feeling fuller longer. Examples of whole grains consist of whole-grain bread, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and whole-grain pasta.

· Try lower-fat dairy products like 1% or skim meal, non-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese, low-fat ice cream.

· Avoid trans-fat. Check the nutrition label and ingredients and look for partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated ingredients. These items contain trans-fat.

Physical Activity:

If able, try to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. If you are inactive, it is best to set small goals each week of exercising for 20 minutes 2-3x times and slowly increasing frequency as the week progresses. If you try to start with an hour workout five times a week, this goal may be challenging to achieve. The goal is to set yourself up for success, so start small and progress to achieve your goals!

Physical activity does not need to mean an intense, all-out, heart-racing workout. Physical activity can consist of parking farther away in the parking lot, walking all the aisles in the grocery store, taking a lap around the neighborhood or park, swimming, dancing, whatever movement feels good in your body!

It’s essential to take care of the heart that we have! Your heart will thank you by lowering salt intake, monitoring fat/cholesterol intake, and not working as hard to pump blood throughout the body!

If you are interested in more customized diet counseling or have questions about what foods you should eat, reach out to Restor Metabolix Athens to meet with our dietitian.

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