February is here! And it’s National Heart Health month. This article in particular is focused on heart health and with a special shoutout to women. As moms, wives or just busy women in general we don’t always take the time we need to stop and take care of ourselves. Self-care has been HUGE lately and I believe that a part of self-care is paying attention to the food that we put in our bodies and following up with yearly checkups with the doctor.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death of women in the US. We are going to explore what you can do to change this!
The Scoop on Sodium
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day for adults. To use a visual aid, that’s about 1 teaspoon of salt. Adults with high blood pressure should aim for </= 1,500mg of sodium per day.
The average amount of sodium that Americans consume on a daily basis is ~3,400mg according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. The amount of sodium eaten daily can be as much as 5,000mg per day. About 70% of the sodium we eat comes from what we buy in the grocery store and in restaurants. So it’s not so much the salt that we add when cooking at home as it is other factors.
Below are some practical ways to start cutting down on sodium today:
- Buy fresh meat, poultry, fish and vegetables
- Most of the time frozen, pre-cooked meat/vegetables can already have a good amount of sodium. Especially frozen vegetables that come with a sauce.
- Buy plain, frozen vegetables and flavor it yourself!
- When buying canned vegetables like beans follow these steps:
- Dump the can into a colander and rinse under running water. This helps to wash away some of the sodium!
- Buy unsalted or low-sodium broths/stocks
Trans fat is a type of fat that occurs both naturally and man-made. Naturally it can be found in the stomach of animals and in their byproducts, like dairy foods. Artificial (man-made) trans fat is produced by a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. I think it’s important to know that research supports being more concerned about artificial trans fat instead of what naturally occurs in meat and dairy products.
So how is trans fat bad for our heart? Trans fat raises bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers good cholesterol (HDL). This combination can cause clogged arteries which increases the risk for heart disease.
Another name for artificial trans fat is “partially hydrogenated oils”. You’ll only see the word “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredients list. Whenever you see this word it is best to avoid it. There is no standard recommendation for trans fat, except to limit it or try to avoid it as much as possible.
You might be wondering why something like this would be in food anyway? Not much was known about trans fat before 2013 when it was no longer recognized as “generally safe to consume” by the FDA. Trans fat is used in many fast food restaurants because it is cheap, lasts long, and gives the food a good taste.
Below are a list of foods that may have trans fat:
- Fried foods like doughnuts and french fries
- Stick margarine
- Store-bought biscuits, pie crust, cookies and other baked goods
Before we do a deep dive into this topic let’s talk about the difference between naturally occurring sugar and added sugars. Carbohydrate rich foods like fruits, starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, plantains, etc.) milk and yogurt have naturally occurring sugars. These foods are also full of vitamins and minerals, fiber, antioxidants and have been proven to decrease risk for heart disease. These foods are not the problem. The concern is the amount of added sugar in our diet.
Added sugars do not provide the same amount of nutrition as the carbohydrates mentioned above. A research study showed that the more added sugars consumed in the diet the higher the risk of heart disease. You might be wondering, well what exactly are added sugars?
- Table sugar including white and brown sugar
- Agave nectar
- Maple syrup
- Sugars that can be listed on the ingredients list include malt sugar, invert sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose and fructose for example
I know, I know sugars like honey, maple syrup and agave nectar have been very popular as of lately. While they may have some potential advantages, they are still considered sugar and it doesn’t mean we should go crazy using them.
Added sugars and heart health is still being studied, but what we do know is that sugar is broken down by the liver and turned into fat. Over time if we continue eating a large amount of added sugar this can lead to fatty liver disease, which increases the risk for heart disease. You might be surprised to know that the leading source of added sugar in the American diet is still sugar sweetened beverages. If you’re looking for nutritious beverages recipes then you’ll want to check out “The Complete Book of Healthy Smoothies”!
While we know food choices can have an impact on our heart, so can certain lifestyle choices like the following:
- It is recommended to quit smoking to protect your heart.
- Lack of exercise
- Think of exercise as moving more! Even taking 2-15 minute breaks to go for a walk counts.
- Current health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol
- Do your best to manage these. Talk to your doctor about what you can do and better yet find a dietitian to be on your side and help you manage it.