February is American Heart Month and is a time that is designated to remind all Americans of the importance of taking care of your heart. Heart disease affects many Americans, but there are some things you can do to help prevent or slow the progression of this disease. The American Heart Association's campaign called "The Simple Seven" helps remind us of the things we can do to be proactive in making lifestyle choices. "The Simple Seven" Heart Health Factors are:
1. Get active
2. Control cholesterol
3. Eat better
4. Manage blood pressure
5. Lose weight
6. Reduce blood sugar
7. Stop smoking
After seeing the above list, you may now be saying to yourself - those are not all simple things to do. But the fact is, the more of those things that you can do, the more you can cut the risk to yourself for developing heart disease. Since this is a "food" column, let's concentrate on the "eat better" topic. What are the most important things that we can do to eat better to improve our heart health?
According to the American Heart Association's website, a healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease. However, it can be confusing when you start reading labels and trying to apply what you read to what you really do like to eat. All those different names for fat (saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, triglycerides, cholesterol, etc) can be confusing. And how much salt should a person consume in a day? And what should you do if you really like to eat pizza and cheeseburgers? Are there better choices than others when you go out to eat?
It really is a matter of being informed and then making wiser or more appropriate choices. The recommended food choice guidelines from the American Heart Association are:
1. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. They are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber and low in calories and may help you control your weight and your blood pressure.
2. Eat whole-grain foods. They contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full, which may help you manage your weight.
3. Eat fish at least twice a week. Fish that contains omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout and herring can help lower your risk of coronary heart disease. Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated or trans fats. Select fat-free or low-fat dairy products (such as skim or 1 percent milk, low-fat cheeses, etc.)
4. Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet. Try to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day. Aim to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Choose and prepare foods with little or no added salt.
So what if you do really do like to eat pizza? Can you choose lower fat toppings like Canadian bacon or vegetables instead of pepperoni and sausage? Can you use just mozzarella cheese? Can you limit yourself to just a couple of pieces and have a salad along with it? There are ways to compromise, and the key is to make it a lifestyle choice that you can live with. Now is a good time to think about what you can do going forward to incorporate the "Simple Seven" into your lifestyle.
Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. In addition to her column, you can also find nutrition tips and ideas on the blog she writes at www.averastorycenter.org.