It is getting easier to eat meals that are both tasty and healthy for the heart. For example, new labeling that indicates the amount of harmful trans fat in foods like crackers, chips, breads, cookies and cereals means you can choose products that have eliminated trans fatty acids in favor of healthier oils.
Starting January 1, the FDA is requiring food companies to list trans fat content separately on the nutrition facts panel of all packaged foods. Under this rule, consumers can see how much saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol are in foods.
According to the American Heart Association, consumption of trans fat raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, causing the arteries to become clogged and increasing the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
Although low-fat foods are healthy for the heart, you don’t have to avoid fats entirely. Lauren Magee, RD, LD, a clinical dietician specializing in cardiac nutrition at the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center in Jackson, said people can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease by choosing healthy fats.
“Monounsaturated fat appears to aid in lowering blood cholesterol,” Magee said. “It is found in vegetable oils such as olive, canola and peanut oil. Use these oils in place of butter or shortening.”
Other tips include using non-stick vegetable sprays more often in cooking, limiting margarine or oil to no more than six to eight teaspoons per day and increasing the intake of heart healthy nuts such as almonds, peanuts, walnuts and pistachios. These nuts are a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids shown to be good for the cardiovascular system.
Other suggestions on fat consumption include skim or 1% milk, and using frozen yogurt, reduced fat ice cream, sherbet, sorbets and popsicles in place of premium ice creams. Magee also recommends low-fat or reduced fat versions of sour cream and cream cheese, and 2% reduced-fat cheeses.
“It is also important to add fiber to your diet to help lower cholesterol,” Magee said. “Choose fresh fruits rather than canned fruits or fruit juice. Eat whole grain breads. Oatmeal is really healthy, and beans and peas should be eaten more often. It is also a good idea to leave the skins on vegetables such as potatoes, squash and carrots.”
Use whole grain flours for baking, and eat bran and whole grain cereals rather than rice cereals. With salads, consider that iceberg lettuce has little nutritional value compared to other types of salad greens. Spinach, beet greens, other types of gourmet salad greens, shredded carrots and other colorful vegetable additions to the salad beef up the nutritional and fiber content.
“Eat three to five servings of vegetables daily for added antioxidants, fiber and nutrients that help ward off heart disease,” Magee said. “Red wine in moderation has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Diet alone isn’t the total answer. Another vital element to a healthy heart is exercise. Finding the time to exercise can be difficult for busy professionals, many of whom are also raising children andor caring for elderly relatives. Cathy Horne, wellness director, YMCA Reservoir, Jackson, says people should take every opportunity to add in a bit of exercise to their working lives.
“During breaks, walk up and down stairs if you have stairs at the office,” Horne said. “Park your car away from the front of the building. Walk every chance you get. If you are in an office setting, instead of shooting off an e-mail, walk over to their office.”
She also suggest making exercise a priority by putting it in the day planner.
Set aside time to exercise three times a week. Don’t schedule any other appointments or meetings during that time.
“That is your time for exercise,” Horne said. “If you do that, you will stick with it. If you schedule meetings at that time, you will end up dropping out and not sticking with it. The business people who are successful with exercise programs are consistent. It is important to get in the right frame of mind. Say you are going to do it, and follow through with it. It is just like quitting smoking. You have to make up your mind you are going to do it. With exercise, it is the same thing. If you can stick with a program three to four months, usually you will continue with it.”
With exercise machines like the treadmill or stationary bicycle, it is even possible to keep working while you are exercising. Catch up on reading materials, or listen to a book on tape. Of course, the reading materials and books on tape don’t have to be business related. Reading or listening to music can help focus attention elsewhere so you don’t get bored.
Exercising with a friend is also a good idea, Horne said. You can visit while exercising. It is harder to back out of going to the gym when you know your friend is meeting you there. And if you don’t bring a friend, make one. That is especially easy when taking exercise or yoga classes.
“Having exercise partners is always a good thing,” she said. “Sometimes you’ll end up going out to lunch after class.”
There is no doubt that exercise can help prevent heart attacks, as well as reduce the need for heart medicines.
“Some people are able to get off of some of the high blood pressure medicine when they regularly exercise,” Horne said. “I also know people who got off their diabetes medicine while exercising, but when they quit had to go back on the medicine.”
Horne believes there are also mental benefits. In addition to increasing self esteem and helping you sleep well, exercise can even improve brain function.
“If you get stuck on a project, go exercise and get your heart rate up,” she said. “You can think better.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.