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Keeping a Healthy Heart
Provided by the American Dietetic Association: Your Link to Nutrition & Health

You can control many health risk factors that contribute to problems later on. Those factors include your overall eating plan and how actively you live your life. February is Heart Month and keeping a healthy heart is a goal we all should strive to achieve.

Heart disease is America's number one killer. One in four Americans has some form of cardiovascular disease, accounting for more than 45 percent of deaths annually in the United States - many of which are preventable.

Don't think that men are more at risk than women. Women's risks for heart disease actually parallel those of men - but seven to 10 years later in life. And their death rate is higher!

As preventive medicine...

Eat a diet low in fat. Reduce your fat intake to no more than 30 percent of your total calories a day. If you're at a healthy weight, eat more starches, or complex carbohydrates, as you cut back on fat. Otherwise, you'll lose weight. Good sources of complex carbs include grain products, beans and vegetables.

Watch your intake of saturated fatty acids as well. Saturated fat boosts blood cholesterol levels more than anything else you consume. Reduce the amount of "sat fats" in your diet to less than 10 percent of your total daily calories.

Eat a low-cholesterol diet. There's no need to eliminate foods such as milk, cheese, poultry, fish and meat from your diet. While these foods contain cholesterol, they also supply plenty of nutrients your body needs. Just limit your cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams a day.

Choose a low sodium diet. Cutting back on sodium may help lower blood pressure. There's no way to predict whose blood pressure may be sodium-sensitive, but healthy normal adults are advised to consume no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium daily.

Eat more fiber, fruits and vegetables. Oatmeal, oat bran, rice, wheat bran, barley and beans may help lower blood cholesterol levels. That's because these fiber-rich foods may help take cholesterol away before it can be absorbed into your bloodstream.

Recent studies suggest a link between high intakes of fruits and vegetables and heart health. Fruits and vegetables provide essential antioxidant vitamins such as beta-carotene, and vitamins A and C.

Fruits and vegetables such as oranges, bananas, okra, potatoes and tomatoes supply a lot of potassium which may help control blood pressure.

Maintain or improve your weight. The more excess body fat you have, the greater your risk for heart disease. Another point to consider is where your body stores extra fat. Those who carry a spare tire around their middle have a higher cardiac risk than those with extra padding in their hips and thighs.

Keep moving. Not only does active living help keep blood cholesterol levels normal, it also reduces blood pressure, helps your body control stress and helps control body weight. More vigorous physical activity gives your heart muscle a good workout and ultimately helps your whole cardiovascular system work more efficiently. Get the heart-healthy benefits of regular physical activity.

If you smoke, quit. Smoking is a key factor in sudden death from cardiovascular disease. It seems to raise blood pressure levels and heart rate, and may lower HDL-cholesterol levels (the good cholesterol). Smoking may also increase the tendency of blood to clot, leading to a heart attack.

Reduce stress. Although evidence isn't clear-cut, stress may be a factor for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. But just in case, and for the overall quality of your life, learn how to reduce stress.

Watch alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking may increase the risk for high blood pressure. Health experts advise no more than one drink a day for women, and two for men.


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