Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in America affecting 35% of the population? Because certain risk factors like age, gender, race, and family history can’t be controlled, it’s important to know how to control other risk factors. Controllable risk factors include cholesterol, blood pressure, and overweight and obesity. Here are a few tips to keep those three things in check.
1. Limit cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that has two sources: your body and your food. Your body will make as much cholesterol as your body needs. High cholesterol levels come from the food we eat. Cholesterol is found in foods like meat, poultry, full fat diary, and eggs. Excess cholesterol can lead to heart disease because it forms plaque between layers of artery walls and makes it hard for the heart to circulate blood. It’s recommended to limit cholesterol to 100-300 mg per day by choosing low fat dairy, and limiting meat by consuming a plant based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and seafood.
2. Limit sodium. Sodium is an important mineral that is essential to life, but when excess sodium is in the blood stream, it can lead to negative effects. Extra sodium in the blood stream pulls water into the blood vessels, which increases the volume of blood moving through blood vessels. This causes high blood pressure and can eventually stretch the blood vessels walls forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. This may lead to a heart attack, or stroke. There are six common sources of excess sodium: cold cuts and cured meats, breads and rolls, pizza, chicken prepared with seasonings or fried, canned soup, and burritos and tacos. To limit sodium, chose to eat in the dining hall or cook at home more often and choose the “Low Sodium” version of foods bought at a grocery store. For more information on limiting sodium, visit the American Heart Association.
3. Consume a balanced plant-based diet, like the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease. It includes more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and seafood and consuming less saturated fat, trans-fat, added sugars and alcohol. Fruits and vegetables provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals that can help in controlling blood pressure and cholesterol. Whole grains are also a great source of fiber and can help lower cholesterol levels. Seafood is high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can help increase HDL cholesterol levels (or good cholesterol), and lower LDL cholesterol levels (or bad cholesterol). For more information on the Mediterranean diet, visit the American Heart Association.