Congestive Heart Failure. Myocardial Infarction. Hypertension.
These are a bunch of scary words for conditions that can arise when our diets lack balance. But if you’re here, you’ve already taken the first step toward prevention – you’re looking for an answer to the question “What can I do to keep myself healthy?” … So congratulate yourself!
It looks tough and strong, but it really needs your help!
There are a lot of bits of information out there, telling us how to improve our diets. However, current evidence points to a few factors that dietetics and science believe to be true about decreasing risk for certain heart health related conditions. If you have been told by a physician that you have high blood pressure or hypertension, or that you are at risk for developing heart failure (or CHF) or of having a heart attack, you may find this information helpful.
1. Weight Loss
One of the most basic things you can do for yourself to decrease your risk for heart disease is making sure you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Here is a link to a BMI calculator – you can input your height and weight, and the calculator will tell you your Body Mass Index, or BMI. This number is what clinicians sometimes use as a way of assessing whether your weight is in a healthy range for your height. The goal is to have a BMI greater than 18.5, and less than 24.9. If your BMI is 25 or greater, this is classified as overweight. If your BMI is 30 or greater, this is considered obese. The higher your BMI clocks in above 25, the greater your risk for developing heart disease.
The topic of weight loss is all around us, and everyone wants to know the answer for how to shed pounds. Well, I have the answer RIGHT HERE. It’s not a pill. It’s not a powder you add to your weight loss shake. It’s not a superfood, or a magic berry, or anything some mad scientist crafted in his underground layer. It’s three words: BALANCE. VARIETY. MODERATION.
I know, it’s not that exciting right away. But think of it this way: you get to eat WHATEVER YOU WANT! Just utilize portion control, and try to vary your choices. Now it sounds kind of great, right?
The other thing you can focus on that will help with weight loss, and has been proven to benefit those at risk for heart disease is increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables. Not only are these low-calorie, high-fiber options (a perfect recipe for healthy weight loss), but the minerals in most of the foods in these two food groups have been shown to help reduce blood pressure.
And, of course, get up and MOVE! I know the term “exercise” can sound truly unappealing to many. But remember – as long as you’re moving, your body can’t tell whether you’re at the gym on a treadmill, walking around the mall, or putting away laundry in different areas of the house. The point is, if you get moving, your body will thank you. Remember that ANY type of movement can count as physical activity!
Some of my favorite ways to get moving:
So, maybe you don’t need to lose weight, but your doctor has told you you’re still at risk. So what else can you do to protect yourself, and make sure you’re around for all the exciting things in the futures of you and your loved ones? Keep reading…
2. Reduce Sodium
Sodium is a tricky bugger. You have probably heard it said before – it is in EVERYTHING. If you pick up any processed food product (basically anything in a package), the chances are high that on the nutrition label, next to “Sodium,” you will see a number of at least 150 mg, but often much more than that. Some prepared meals have over 1000 mg, which delivers almost 100% of what many of us need in a whole day in just one meal. The best way to cut back on sodium, and to promote not only weight loss but overall good health as well, is to stick to a diet made up of mostly whole foods. What I mean by whole foods is this: the next time you’re at the grocery store, walk around the perimeter first. See if you can stock up on only foods like fruits, veggies, lean meats, and whole grains. By avoiding the center aisles, you’ll avoid foods like chips, cookies, candy, frozen treats, and even the sneaky items like crackers and some cereals and bread products. Another scary carrier of major sodium is canned foods. Soups and canned vegetables can have a very large amount of sodium per serving. If canned soups are a big part of your current diet, try keeping it to 1 per day, and maybe choosing a reduced sodium version. In terms of vegetables, fresh or frozen is best, but if you must get canned, rinse them before eating or cooking – it will remove a significant amount of sodium!
Aiming for a colorful diet is a great way to ensure nutritional variety!
Here is a map of a standard grocery store layout. See how all the fresh food is on the perimeter, with most of the processed items in the center aisles?
Another thing you can try is not adding salt to food when cooking at home, and not adding salt to meals after they are prepared, either at home or when eating out. Additionally, eating at home almost always provides you with less sodium, and better overall nutrition than eating out does. If you’re feeling like your food is bland without salt, try some salt alternatives like Mrs. Dash, or experiment with different salt-free seasonings and herbs.
But be careful of salt substitutes like NuSalt that are made up mostly of the nutrient Potassium. Our bodies need this nutrient, but too much of it can cause heart attacks. So check with your doctor before trying it!
Some examples of potassium-containing salt subs – remember, ASK YOUR DOC!
3. Balance your diet to reduce high fat items
So we really are passed the low fat diet craze that bummed many people out through the 80s and 90s. But there is some merit in watching the fat you consume! The thing to remember is to keep it balanced. Enjoy whole foods, and try to enjoy healthy fat sources. These can include avocado, olive oil (and olives), wild fish, and nuts. Just remember – fat contributes a lot of calories per gram, so even when eating healthy fats, limit portions so as not to overshoot your calories for the day.
Sources of saturated fats—the ones you should eat in moderation (even more so than the healthy ones)—include butter, vegetable oils (particularly when used to deep fry), and high-fat meats (like rib eye steaks, bacon, etc). A good rule of thumb: if a fat is solid at room temperature, like butter, it’s likely a saturated fat, and in excess, may lead to heart disease.
4. Heart Failure Information
If your doctor has told you that you are at risk for congestive heart failure, or CHF, you may really benefit from observing the recommendations above. Another thing to remember is to monitor your weight, even if you are not trying to lose. This is important because, if you go into heart failure, your body begins to retain fluid. If you are at risk, try to weigh yourself daily. If your weight goes up 1-2 lbs in 1 day, or 5 lbs in 1 week, contact your doctor immediately, as this could indicate heart failure.
The best thing you can do for your health is to try to implement one healthy habit today. So, what will you do? Eat an extra serving of fruit or veggies? Maybe go for a walk? Or decide on a lower sodium alternative to something high in salt you normally eat?
I would love to hear how you’re implementing these changes to improve your health and quality of life, and to keep you on this Earth a little (or a LOT) longer.
What will you change today?!