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We toss around the term “heart-healthy” a lot, but what does it really mean? To kick off American Heart Month, we are looking at the diet recommendations from the American Heart Association, whose mission has been to battle the number one killer of Americans: heart disease.
Originally established in 1915 in New York City, the American Heart Association (AHA) was created by physicians and social workers, who were concerned about how little information was out there about heart health. The idea spread like wildfire, and by 1949, the AHA ran its first national fund-raising campaign that raised $2.7 million. Today, the organization sticks to its original goals of offering credible heart disease and stroke information to help treat and prevent them.
Heart disease is the top killer of Americans, but there’s good news — it’s preventable! Here are seven simple steps to follow to keep heart disease at bay:
1. Get Active: Strive for 30 minutes a day of physical activity.
2. Control Cholesterol: Schedule regular screening cholesterol screenings and eat foods low in cholesterol, low in saturated fat and free of trans fat. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important.
3. Eat Better: Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups.
4. Manage Blood Pressure: This is one of the most important risk factors for heart disease, which everyone can control with proper care.
5. Lose Weight: In this country, 76.9 million men and 68.1 million women are considered obese. Obesity is a huge risk factor for heart disease.
6. Reduce Blood Sugar: Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease when compared to adults without diabetes. Keeping an eye on blood sugar can help reduce your risk.
7. Stop Smoking: Everyone knows it’s bad, so stop now!
Smarter Food Choices
Food plays a major roll in keeping your heart healthy and your weight down. Be sure you’re taking in lots of high-fiber and low-calorie foods such as fruits and veggies. Here are more specific guidelines:
- Eat fish high in omega-3 fats at least twice a week.
- Eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day.
- Choose lean meats and poultry without the skin, and don’t cook or prepare them with added fats (i.e. butter or frying oils).
- Choose 1% or fat-free dairy products.
- Reduce your trans fat (skip anything that lists “partially hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients).
- Eat less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
The Costs of This Diet
The American Heart Association website offers a ton of information and it’s all free! You can get a personalized action plan, take a physical activity quiz and find lots of free healthy recipes. For extra ideas, their online store has numerous cookbooks such as Healthy Family Meals, Healthy Soul Food Recipes and Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook.
If you’ve got high cholesterol or an added risk for heart disease, definitely see your doctor. He or she may refer you to a registered dietitian, who can help you make sense of these guidelines and create an eating plan. Many dietitians now take insurance, especially if you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, diabetes or heart disease. Ask your insurance carrier for a list of registered dietitian’s in your area.
- The AHA’s guidelines are scientifically sound.
- You can eat from all the food groups.
- This is meant to be a lifelong healthy-eating plan.
- Many resources are available.
- Encourages regular exercise.
- Encourages keeping on top of your health!
The Not-So Good
- Learning to shop, cook and exercise within a busy schedule can be stressful, but is doable.
The AHA’s heart-healthy diet recommendations have been used for nearly 100 years to help prevent heart disease and stroke, and even if you’re not at increased risk, the advice is good to follow for overall health and wellness. This diet is not as trendy or quick-fix as many of the other fad diets out there, but it’s one that will probably be around for another 100 years.
Now is the time many folks start breaking their New Year’s resolutions. At the gym, lines for the elliptical machine are slowly dwindling, while at home, healthy eating habits are beginning to slide. If you’re starting to fall off the wagon, instead of going back to your old habits for the remaining 11 months of the year, brush yourself off and get back on.