February is known as Heart Month. Not only because we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, but because it’s a reminder to take better care of our heart health.
Important factors in heart health include regular aerobic exercise, eating a balanced diet, eliminating tobacco abuse and regular visits to your health care provider.
An estimated 42 million American women live with cardiovascular disease, and many are unaware of the threat that they face. More women than men die of heart disease each year and heart disease, not breast cancer, is the leading cause of death of American women. Within one year of a first recognized heart attack, 23 percent of women will die. Within five years 22-32 percent of female heart attack survivors will die.
Women are less likely than men to receive appropriate treatment after a heart attack and women make up only 27 percent of participants in all heart-related research studies.
Cigarette smoking results in a two to three times increased risk of dying from a heart disease. To further increase their risk, 58 percent of Caucasian women, 80 percent of African-American women and 74 percent of Hispanic-American women are overweight or obese. Women who have been diagnosed with diabetes are 2.5 times more likely to have heart attacks.
Armed with these statistics, what can you do to take better care of your heart? Start with eating healthier. You don’t need to overhaul your diet overnight, but choose one area to start working on. It may be that you decide to add some healthy foods to your diet or it could be that you decide to eliminate some unhealthy ones — whatever it is, start today.
Here are some suggestions.
Eating more fruits, vegetables and other foods high in soluble fiber can reduce your LDL or bad cholesterol. Some good sources of soluble fiber include apples, strawberries, oats, beans and peas.
Be aware of your fat intake. Trans fats are found in hardened oils like shortening and margarine and may increase your LDL cholesterol while decreasing your HDL, or good, cholesterol, increasing the likelihood that your arteries will clog. Saturated fats increase your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and may also decrease your HDL cholesterol. Work at limiting your saturated fat intake to no more than 15 grams daily and your intake of trans fats to 0 grams daily.
The two main types of potentially helpful dietary fat are monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
Monounsaturated fat is a type of fat found in a variety of foods and oils.
Research shows that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats, or MUFAs, improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease.
Research also shows that MUFAs may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have Type 2 diabetes.
Sources of monounsaturated fat includes items such as olive oil, almonds and pecans.
Polyunsaturated fat is a type of fat found mostly in plant-based foods and oils.
Evidence shows that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. PUFAs may also help decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
One type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, may be especially beneficial to your heart. Omega-3s, found in some types of fatty fish, appear to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. They may also protect against irregular heartbeats and help lower blood pressure levels.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times a week for omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout and fresh tuna. Flax seeds, flax seed oil and walnuts are vegan-friendly food sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sesame seed butter are all food sources of polyunsaturated fats.
Try this recipe to increase your intake of heart healthy fats. Serve with broccoli and carrot sticks for a nutritious snack.
Makes 8 servings
5 garlic cloves
2 cups canned garbanzo beans, drained, liquid saved
⅓ cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
6 tablespoons of lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
2 tablespoons water or garbanzo liquid
Salt to taste
Put peeled garlic cloves in food processor and process until minced. Add remaining ingredients to processor and process until coarsely pureed. Taste and season with salt as desired. Serve chilled or at room temperature with fresh raw vegetables.
Nutrition information: Per serving 120 calories, 11 grams carbohydrate, 5.6 grams protein, 7 grams fat, 0 .8 grams saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol