by Josh Goldstein, Thomas Jefferson University and Hospitals
Some of your risk factors for heart disease – age, genetics or family history – are outside of your control. Others are within your grasp to control, although it can be challenging.
At a recent Women's Health Source event, cardiologist Danielle Duffy, MD, director of Cardiovascular Risk Reduction at the Jefferson Heart Institute, discussed how what you eat can impact your heart health and how heart-healthy nutrition can be critically important to reducing your risk.
"A significant amount of our cardiovascular risk is affected by what we eat," Dr. Duffy explained to the more than 50 people gathered on Jefferson's Center City campus for the noontime lecture.
She noted that atherosclerosis – the accumulation of fatty substances known as plaque – can lead to angina, chest pain, cramping in the legs or peripheral artery disease, stroke and heart attacks. High cholesterol, specifically LDL or 'bad' cholesterol is "directly involved in plaque development."
Dr. Duffy noted you can lower you LDL cholesterol with diet and exerciseas well as medications – such as cholesterol-lowering statins – if necessary.
How do you avoid having too much cholesterol in your diet? Stay away from or limit your consumption of the "bad fats":' saturated fats and trans fats. As Dr. Duffy explained, saturated fats are found mainly in animal-derived foods such as meat and dairy – particularly red meat – as well as cream, cheese and butter.
The recommendation is to limit the amount of saturated fats to no more than 13 grams a day. She added you should avoid trans fats altogether. Trans fats are chemically produced fats that are made to stay solid at room temperature. Looking for the words "partially hydrogenated'" on food labels will help you avoid inadvertently including trans fats in your diet.
Instead of saturated and trans fats, Dr. Duffy recommends adding "good fats":' monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet from foods such as avocados, nuts, olive oil and fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.
Essential fatty acids – omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids – should be included in your heart-healthy diet. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in vegetable oils. Omega-3s are found in seeds and some nuts as well as fish.
Heart healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet are high in good fats and low those types of fats you should avoid.
Fish oil supplements (1 gram a day) can prevent recurrent heart attacks and reduce death in people who have heart disease, Dr. Duffy said.
Armed with solid information on fats, Dr. Duffy explained that moderation is really a key ingredient to a heart-healthy diet. Watch your portion sizes, she said. Often in restaurants and at home we mix up the proportions of our meals with large portions of meats and grains and smaller amounts of fruit and veggies.
Dr. Duffy's tips to a heart-healthy diet:
- Fruits and vegetables are good sources of dietary fiber and minerals.
- Fruit and veggies make great snacks.
- Whole grains are a great source of fiber.
- Choose low-fat protein such as fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and lean meat and poultry without skin prepared by baking, broiling or grilling.
- Choose low-fat dairy products.
- Beans, peas, lentils and other legumes are great sources of protein that are low in fat and have no cholesterol.
- Watch what you drink.
- Watch your salt intake, which can impact your blood pressure. A couple things you can do to protect against excessive salt consumption are to remove the salt shaker from your table and substitute fresh herbs, garlic and onions for flavor when you cook.
Good nutrition is a key part of a heart-healthy lifestyle that also includes exercise.
For more information, or to make an appointment with a Jefferson heart specialist, call 1-800-JEFF-NOW (1-800-533-3669) or use ouronline appointment request form.
For more tips and information on being heart healthy, visit www.Jefferson.edu/HeartHealth