Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the world. It kills one out of every three Americans. Eating a heart healthy diet should not be reserved for those who have been diagnosed with a heart condition; rather a heart healthy diet is for anyone with a heart! Once thought of as an adult disease, children and teens, because of the foods they’re consuming, are also clogging their arteries.
According to a study released in May 2012 in the journal Pediatrics, one in four adolescents has two or more of these risk factors for heart disease: overweight or obese, high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. We have a really big problem, but we aren’t helpless to make changes.
To start, the Centers for Disease Control has an online BMI (Body Mass Index) calculator to help you determine if you or your child is overweight or obese. Determining BMI for adolescents is different than measuring an adult’s BMI. The CDC website has calculators for both. Visit http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/ . Helping children achieve or stay in a normal healthy weight range may decrease their risk of developing diabetes.
One in four adolescents has, or almost has diabetes. Many of them don’t even know it yet. Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes. The American Heart Association considers diabetes to be one of the controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease; controllable through diet.
Here are ten ways to love your heart and help in the prevention of becoming overweight, developing Type II diabetes and developing heart disease:
1. Don’t wait until you’re old to eat a lot of fiber. A study of 21,930 men found that those who consumed just 10 extra grams of fiber a day were able to reduce their risk of dying from heart disease by 17 %. Most of us get around 10-20 grams per day. We should shoot for 30-35 grams.
Fiber is an indigestible type of carbohydrate that cleanses the intestines as it travels through to the bowels. It actually binds to some of the cholesterol and pulls it right out of the body. This cleansing proves to be beneficial to your heart. The consumption of fiber has been shown in numerous studies to protect the heart by lowering blood cholesterol levels, removing toxins from the body and helping to stabilize blood sugar levels. Fiber slows the digestion of foods which promotes the use of the food for energy rather than depositing it as body fat.Our hearts love to support less body fat!
2. Eat a rainbow of colors at every meal by eating fruits and veggies. The color pigments in fruits and vegetables contain many nutrients and antioxidants that help protect your heart. Variety is important. Try to eat at least 5-9 servings every day and make your plate as colorful as possible. Pomegranates in particular may help to reverse the progression of artery plaque buildup and help curb hardening of the arteries.
3. Make exercise a priority by building your schedule around it. Find what moves you and protect that time. You are worth it.
4. Curb the sugar. Imagine you are at the grocery store about to grab a 5 pound bag of sugar. Guess how many of those 5 pound bags the average American consumes in one year? Thirty! That’s approximately 13 pounds of sugar per month, or three pounds per week that the body has to metabolize! When the body cannot metabolize all the sugar in our body it stores it as fat. Yes, sugar is fattening. Here’s an activity that will not ‘sugar coat’ how much you estimate to have in your diet. For one day read food labels and keep track of how many sugar grams you eat. Four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon. There are 96 teaspoons in 1 pound of sugar. Frequent blood sugar spikes set the stage for diabetes and heart disease.
5. Eat garlic and onion frequently to help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as thin the blood. The less they are cooked the more nutritional benefit there is.
6. It’s essential to add essential fatty acids to your diet because the body cannot manufacture essential fatty acids on its own. You must eat them. Increase omega-3 fatty acid intake by eating cold-water ocean fish such a salmon, deep water halibut, herring, Atlantic cod, scrod and tuna. For vegetarians or those who are allergic to fish there are other ways of increasing omega-3’s in the diet. They are also found in flax seeds, flax oil, walnuts, soybeans, tofu, canola oil, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale and salad greens. Aim to get at least one rich source of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet every day.
7. Avoid fried foods, period.
8. Limit saturated fats such as full fat dairy, tropical oils, marbled red meat and poultry skin. Avoid trans-fats found in stick margarine and shortening, commercial baked goods, fried foods and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. A good rule of thumb is to eat fresh whole foods and avoid food that food companies alter in some way – processed foods.
9. Know your cholesterol numbers.
Desirable: less than 200 mg (180 is preferable)
Borderline: 200-239 mg
High: 240+ mg
Desirable: under 150 mg
LDL cholesterol (Bad cholesterol)
Desirable: less than 130 mg
Borderline: 130-159 mg
High: 160+ mg
HDL cholesterol (Good cholesterol)
Low: Less than 35 mg
Desirable: 50+ mg
10. Be extra kind to your heart on Monday mornings. Roberto Manfredini, professor of internal medicine at the University of Ferrara in Italy has found the most dangerous times for heart attack and for all kinds of cardiovascular emergency are during the morning hours. Morning hours are when the stress hormone cortisol peaks, increasing blood pressure and blood-sugar levels. Mornings are filled with schedule pressures – commencing daily activities, getting to work on time and traffic stresses. Other studies point to heart attacks occurring more frequently on Monday mornings. So, on Monday mornings as you are driving to work, take special care of your heart and try not to let your anger get the best of you.
Addressing emotional and psychological stress in your life is equally as important as diet in preventing or treating cardiovascular illness. Caring for your whole person – mind, body and spirit – can help prevent and treat stress that precedes symptoms of heart disease. Bathing the mind with positive thoughts and attitudes, feeding the body well and nurturing the spirit are dimensions of health that all deserve adequate attention.