American Heart Month
American Heart Month is all about raising awareness of heart disease and how to prevent it. It’s important to not only educate adults how to prevent heart disease, but also to promote healthy eating patterns in children that will turn into lifelong habits. Let’s get heart healthy!
Incorporate high fiber foods.
Fiber is becoming a hot topic – and for all the right reasons! Most Americans only eat about 10 grams of fiber per day when the recommended amount is 25-30 grams per day for adults.
A recently published series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses found that those who ate a diet rich in fiber experienced a 15-30% decrease in cardiovascular related mortality, coronary heart disease risk, stroke incidence and mortality, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer. Results also found that eating between 25-29 grams of fiber per day was associated with the strongest risk reduction for many of these diseases (1). Fiber helps your heart in several different ways. Fiber becomes thick and gel-like after you swallow it, making it move very slowly through your gastrointestinal system. This slows down digestion, leaving you more full, suppressing your appetite, and dwindling your body’s blood sugar response. Fiber also removes cholesterol from your bloodstream, lowering the amount of “bad” cholesterol in your blood. Fiber is found in all vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, oats, and bran.
Eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Over time, inflammation due to poor diet, physical inactivity, and excess intake of cholesterol and triglycerides can cause damage to your blood vessels. This damage results in the buildup of plaque or narrowing of the vessel wall. High blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking can also cause this same effect within your blood vessels. Omega-3 fatty acids combat this by lowering blood pressure and decreasing triglycerides. They also reduce inflammation within the body, helping to prevent damage to your blood vessels and the formation of blood clots. Foods rich in this cardioprotective fatty acid include salmon, shrimp, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, dark leafy greens, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and other nuts! The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fatty fish two times per week as well as foods that contain alpha-linoleic acid, such as flaxseed and walnuts, to lower cholesterol (2).
Reduce sodium intake.
Sodium is sneaky! It’s found in excess in frozen foods, processed foods, and breads, pizza, lunch meats, and more. Just one teaspoon of salt equals 2,300mg of sodium – the average recommended daily amount. While sodium is essential for fluid balance, nerve signals, and muscle function, excess intake can cause damage to your blood vessels. When you eat a diet high in sodium, it causes a shift of water into your bloodstream, increasing the volume. As the volume increases, your body has to increase the pressure, much like a garden hose. This chronic increase of blood pressure, known as hypertension, tires your heart and stretches out your blood vessel walls. Hypertension increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure (3). For this reason, the AHA recommends eating less than 1,500mg a day to lower blood pressure. Remember, sea salt, pink Himalayan sea salt, kosher salt, and table salt all contain relatively the same amount of sodium per serving!
Learn about the benefits of phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals, such as polyphenols and flavonoids, are cardioprotective compounds found in vegetables, fruits, plants, and roots. This means that most phytochemical rich foods are also rich in fiber, which makes results from research tricky to interpret on whether it’s the phytochemicals and their many antioxidants, the fiber content, or both. Either way, it’s clear that phytochemical filled foods have many benefits! Phytochemicals may help reduce inflammation, cholesterol, formation of blood clots, and blood pressure. Some of the more popular phytochemicals due to their high polyphenol content include tea, wine, and cocoa. However, wine and cocoa only show antioxidant benefits when consumed in moderation and small portions (4). Consuming more than five servings of vegetables and fruits per day will provide cardioprotective phytochemical benefits.
As always, a plant based diet and regular physical activity is important for disease prevention and weight maintenance! For more information on cardiovascular disease, prevention, and/or how to get involved, visit www.heart.org.
- Reynolds A, Mann J, Cummings J, Winter N, Mete E, Te Morenga L. Carbohydrate quality and human health: a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. The Lancet. 2019;393(10170):434-445. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31809-9.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease. University of Rochester Medical Center. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=3054. Accessed January 31 2019.
- Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/sodium-and-salt. Reviewed April 16 2018.
- Webb, D. Phytochemicals’ role in good health. Today’s Dietitian. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/090313p70.shtml. Published September 2013.
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