“Go Red for Women” is an annual February campaign started by the American Heart Association (AHA). Heart disease is the No.1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year, that’s approximately one woman every minute! In fact, heart disease kills more women each year than all cancers combined. Stats from 2009 (the latest available) show that $312.6 billion dollars were lost due to health care costs and lost productivity due to heart disease.
What can you do to keep yourself healthy? Let’s look at 5 measurable eating behaviors: fruit and vegetable intake, fats and oils, sugar-sweetened beverages, fiber-rich whole grains, and sodium in our diets. All suggestions are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Fruit and vegetables: aim to eat 4 ½ cups or more a day. Fruits and vegetables are naturally cholesterol free, low in fat and calories, and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and natural chemicals called phytonutrients. Half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, so when you eat you should think color. Why? Because color is not only pleasing to the eye, research shows a colorful combination of fruits and vegetables can help keep our hearts, minds, and eyes healthy. (Excerpt from Little Hands in the Kitchen)
Fats and oils are an important source of energy and are needed for the production of certain hormones. Fats and oils also aid in the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K. They also provide the essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), meaning our bodies cannot make these and we must obtain them through diet intake.
Fats and oils come in multiple forms: the good, the bad, and the ugly, which I wrote about in a February, 2011 (click here ) article titled: Fat: the good, the bad, the ugly.
Briefly, the good: monounsaturated (mono), polyunsaturated (poly), and omega-3 fatty acids. Good sources of mono and poly are nuts, seeds, and oils, such as avocado, canola, olive, grape seed and vegetable. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of arrhythmias, lower triglyceride levels, and reduce the growth of atherosclerotic plaque. The best source is fish; and you should aim to eat a 3.5 ounce serving of fish 2-3 times per week. The best choices would be the “oily” fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and halibut.
The bad: saturated fats, these fats are solid at room temperature. Food sources include animal products (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, lard and butter), and coconut*, palm and other tropical oils. The “bad” label is because saturated fat has shown to increase our risk of heart disease by increasing our total cholesterol and our LDL (or “lousy”) cholesterol levels.
The ugly: trans fats. Currently, there are no guidelines for trans fat in our diet. Although the AHA recommends no more than 1% of our daily intake should come from trans fat, which is just 2 grams a day for a 2,000 calorie diet. Trans fat raises our LDL level and lowers our HDL “happy” cholesterol levels, which increases our risk of heart disease and it has also been associated with a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Look at the ingredient list on labels, if you see the word “hydrogenated”, “partially hydrogenated”, or “shortening” then this product has trans fat, even though the nutrition facts label will list “trans fat, 0g. Note: a product is allowed to say 0g trans fat if “per serving” the product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat.
Sugar: the good – whole fruits and vegetables, the bad – added or refined sugar often found in sugary drinks. Our liver is responsible for processing sugar in our diet and research has shown that when we ingest more sugar than the liver can process, it converts the sugar to fat. Some of this fat goes into the bloodstream raising our triglyceride levels, which increases one’s risk for heart disease.
The bottom line: it is recommended that women should consume no more than 100 calories (6 ½ teaspoons) and men 150 calories (9 ½ teaspoons) from added sugars a day, which is roughly 5% of a 2,000 calorie a day diet. It’s the excess that leads to the problems, and don’t forget, sugar has no nutritive value. To read more (click here )
Whole grains: diets high in whole grains lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, and help to maintain a healthy body weight. Your goal should be 25-32 grams a day; sadly the average American only consumes 11-12 grams per day. I know it’s difficult to make all your grains “whole” on a daily basis, so aim to have at least half your daily grains be “whole”. Some good sources: popcorn (omit the saturated fat & salt!), whole grain cereal, brown rice, barley, and oats.
Sodium: excess sodium in our diet contributes to 92,000 deaths and 66,000 strokes each year. Amazingly, if we could reduce our daily sodium intake by 1,200 milligrams we could save $10-$24 billion in health care costs every year and keep 99,000 Americans from having a heart attack and up to 120,000 others from getting heart disease (Center for Science in the Public Interest).
It is estimated that approximately 78% of our sodium intake comes from processed and restaurant foods. So I say “cook” then you can control the sodium content of your food. Some tips to help you avoid sodium: switch to herbs and spices. Studies have shown that spices have more to offer than flavor. Spices are antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. Herbs can expand your palate and not your waistline without sacrificing flavor. Also they do not increase your blood pressure, so they do not put you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Be kind to your heart this month and every month for that matter. Remember “color at every meal”, by including your fruits and veggies. Include the good fats – mono, poly and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, and avoid saturated and trans fat. Include natural sugar from fresh fruits and vegetables; avoid added sugars found in sugary drinks and sweets and aim to make at least half of your daily grains “whole”. To reduce your salt intake, switch to herbs and spices for flavor. This is Red Dress month, which is a good time to be kind to your heart. National wear red day is February 6th.
*Coconut oil has obtained a “health halo” by many, but from WebMD: There is very limited evidence on disease outcomes, says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. “All that has been studied well is the impact of coconut oil on cholesterol levels and the findings are intriguing but we still don’t know if it is harmful or beneficial,” Mozaffarian says. Also as for calories, all fats have the same number of calories per gram. One tablespoon of coconut oils contains 117 calories, 14 grams fat, 12 g saturated fat, and no vitamins or minerals.