Tuesday, November 23, 2010

LIFESTYLE CHANGES: Healthful foods reduce heart disease risk Fight cardiovascular disease by eating fresh fruits, vegetables

Heart disease, which includes a myriad of conditions like heart attacks, congenital heart disease and congestive heart failure, is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, killing more than 600,000 Americans each year. There are many things people can do to keep the disease and related conditions at bay: don't smoke, exercise regularly and limit alcohol consumption. But one of the most important things you can do is change the way you eat to be heart-healthy.
Eating the right foods not only keeps your saturated fat and cholesterol levels in a healthy range -- which can help prevent high blood cholesterol, a cause of heart disease -- it can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that being overweight or obese can increase your chance of heart disease.
"Food plays a huge role because heart disease is greatly linked to obesity and high cholesterol, so if we're eating correctly and we're staying active, then we're going to be all for the better," says Melody Vicari, a registered dietician at Mountain View Hospital.
Joanna Gorman, a registered dietician with University Medical Center, says that contrary to what many people think eating healthfully does not need to be expensive.
"It is not expensive to eat healthy," she says. "I shop at the dollar store. There are things at the dollar store that fit into your heart-healthy plan."
The most important step in learning which foods are right for you, she says, is to understand what the label means. She says people should look for three things on the food label: calories, calories from fat and the portion size. Oftentimes, people don't realize that one bag or can has two or three servings in it.
"I'm a really big advocate on giving people information," Gorman adds. "What they need to know to stay healthy. They need to look at the servings per container, calories and calories from fat. Calories from fat should be less than 30 percent total of the calories from food."
In addition, the amount of sodium in the product is significant to your health. People with high blood pressure should limit their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams, so if you're eating three meals a day, no more than 500 milligrams at each meal, the dietician says. People without high blood pressure can have a little more sodium -- up to 2,400 milligrams per day.
With those guidelines in mind, here are 10 foods that will help -- or won't significantly hurt -- your heart.
Sweet potatoes, Gorman says, are full of vitamins and minerals, like vitamin A, potassium and fiber. Fiber, also found in other whole grains foods like wheat, rice, oats and corn, fights heart disease and diabetes. Several studies have shown that diets rich in fiber can help combat diabetes and heart disease. A recent Japanese study shows that, during a 14-year-long study, the men and women who consumed the most fiber -- 14 grams per day -- were 18 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, as compared to those consuming the least, 6.8 grams per day.
Adults should consumer 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily for optimal health, said Mary Joy Deguzman-Walters, a registered dietician at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center. Anything with more than five grams is considered a high source of fiber.
Gorman recommends sweet potatoes for their ease of use and the wide variety of meals that can be made using them.
"Stick in a microwave, put margarine on it and cinnamon," and you're ready, she says, adding that they make a great side dish, and for some people, are enough for a complete meal.
Plus, they're inexpensive, she says, especially now with the holidays, but even during the rest of the year they are a very cheap option.
Salmon has long been a go-to food for people trying to stay heart healthy. It's a great protein source, but unlike other fatty meats, is not high in saturated fat, a big no-no for the heart. It's also a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, which research has shown decreases the risk of arrhythmias, or abnormal heartbeats, that can lead to sudden death, according to the American Heart Association. Omega 3 fatty acids can also decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque and slightly lower blood pressure.
The American Heart Association recommends people eat fish at least two times per week. Serving sizes are 3.5 ounces cooked or about 3/4 cup of flaked fish.
Gorman says that more and more, people are eating foods with omega 6 fatty acids, typically found in packaged foods.
"The balance is out of kilter," she says, "so increasing omega 3 fatty acids throws the body into a better ratio. That's what the big push is when you hear omega 3s. We used to have a better ratio."
Gorman recommends people eat wild salmon because it has fewer PCB contaminants. Some farm-raised salmon have been found to have more PCB contaminants because of the environment, the dietician says, so she believes eating wild salmon is better. Of course, she adds, eating normal salmon is better than eating no salmon at all.
Beans are another good source of fiber, as well as magnesium, potassium and folate. Researchers in 2000 examined the health effects of legumes on men and women. The results found that beans and peas can offer some protection from heart disease. The study looked at 19 years of data from more than 100,000 men and women between the ages of 25 and 74 in the United States who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I Epidemiology Follow-up Study. At the conclusion of the study, researchers learned that people eating legumes at least four times per week had a 19 percent lower incidence of heart disease, compared to those who ate legumes less than once per week. Also, people who frequently ate beans cut their risk of all cardiovascular diseases by 9 percent, compared to others.
Gorman is a fan of garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas. The beans are used in many Mediterranean dishes, as well as hummus.
"If we don't have time to cook them, this is one of the canned foods I suggest for people," says Gorman. "Take them and rinse them off; the benefits of the food itself will outweigh the canned aspect."
In addition to hummus, the inexpensive food can be thrown on salads, used to make dips, added to stews or vegetable soups, mixed with brown rice or any other whole grains, she adds. "They are versatile, but also high in protein and fiber and iron. They're good for vegetarians."
Although not a common kitchen ingredient in many homes, this seed from South America is growing in popularity. Chock full of amino acids, quinoa has an abundance of magnesium. Magnesium helps to relax blood vessels, making quinoa a great heart-healthy food. Low levels of magnesium have also been linked with increased rates of hypertension, ischemic heart disease and heart arrhythmias. Quinoa also contains iron, copper and phosphorus.
The very tiny seed can be bought in prepackaged bags or tins at many local health food stores, like Trader Joe's, says Gorman. "It cooks up very quickly, and can be used with beans, cold salads or tuna fish," she says.
Another good source of fiber, crispbread are not typically on most peoples' radar.
"As an alternative to Triscuits or saltines, they may want to try something like crispbreads," says the dietician. She recommends dipping in hummus for added flavor. It's a great snack, she adds, if you're trying to replace potato chips or finding a healthier late-night snack to munch on.
They are usually on the top shelf at grocery stores, above the eye line where other cookies and crackers are found, Gorman says. But this rye bread is loaded with fiber and usually fat free.
If you have a choice between eating traditional iceberg lettuce or spinach and red leafy romaine, choose the latter, Gorman says.
"These other greens are packed with vitamins A and C and potassium and calcium," she says.
You can tell how much nutritional punch a fruit or vegetable has simply by looking at its color: the more color, the more vitamins and minerals it has, Gorman notes.
The colorful foods also can help control blood pressure and blood sugar, which helps control the risk of heart attacks and heart disease.
Moreover, researchers have found that leafy green vegetables may minimize the tissue damage caused by heart attacks. A 2007 study from scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University found that the chemical nitrite, found in many vegetables, could be the secret ingredient in the Mediterranean diet, the heart-healthy diet that nutritionists and dieticians have touted for years.
"Our study suggests that building up nitrite stores in heart muscle could spell the difference between a mild heart attack and one that causes lasting heart damage or death," says Dr. David Lefer, the study's senior author and professor of medicine and of pathology at Einstein. "And since nitrite also accumulate in the brain, they could potentially help minimize the damage from strokes as well."
Another positive? Leafy greens are very dense with nutrients, meaning they pack a lot of nutrition into very few calories. In fact, most greens have fewer than 25 calories per cup, so you don't have to feel bad going back for seconds, thirds or even fourths. This further helps your heart by keeping your waistline in check.
Mangoes are full of vitamin B, a mineral that has been found to help lower homocysteine build-up. Increased levels of homocysteine have been found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Gorman likes this fruit because it can be used in a variety of ways -- on cereal, as a smoothie, or simply eaten as a late night snack. And don't worry about them being out of season. You can buy frozen mangoes year-round.
Eating fresh berries can help reduce the buildup of LDL, or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis.
According to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, blackberries have the highest LDL inhibitory effect, followed by red raspberries, sweet cherries, blueberries and strawberries.
Another study found that consuming certain berries might increase the level of good cholesterol in the body. Researchers from Finland discovered that eating bilberries, lingonberries, black currants and strawberries led to a reduction in LDL levels while HDL cholesterol, or "good cholesterol" rose by more than five percent.
The participants in the study consumed 100 grams of whole bilberries and 50 grams of a lingonberry-rich nectar every other day. They also consumed 100 grams of purée of blackcurrants or strawberries and a juice of raspberry and chokeberry on the other days.
Although full of fat -- which means portion control is important -- avocadoes have their own health benefits, such as folate. One cup of avocadoes has 23 percent of daily intake of folate, a nutrient that has been found to lower the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. In addition, avocadoes are an excellent source of potassium, which helps control blood pressure.
Replace unhealthy mayonnaise with avocado smear or slices on sandwiches, Gorman recommends, as avocadoes are full of heart-healthy fats like monounsaturated fat, which is believed to help lower cholesterol.
Tomatoes have gotten a lot of press because of lycopene, Gorman notes. Lycopene has been studied significantly in the past few years for its antioxidant and cancer-preventing properties.
But don't forget about the beta-carotene and potassium found in tomatoes, says Gorman. Beta-carotene is believed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Niacin, Vitamin B6 and folate are also found in tomatoes.
If you opt for the red fruit, Gorman recommends staying away from the sun-dried variety. They are usually packed in oil. Instead, get the dehydrated kind and hydrate them yourself with water. "They add a nice little punch to sandwiches," she says.

resource; KRISTI EATON

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