Get on track to heart health

Chopping VegetablesFebruary is the heart-shaped holder of Valentine’s Day. It’s also National Heart Month. Can’t have a loving heart unless it’s healthy. So let’s talk about disease and death first. Then, the good stuff, and no, that’s not chocolate

About 600,000 Americans die each year because of heart disease. That’s 1 in 4 people! More than half of these are men.

Every year, 715,000 people have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 190,000 happen in those who have already had a heart attack.

Heart disease knows no favorites and strikes almost equally in whites, Hispanics, American Indians, Asians and blacks.

49% of those with heart disease have the top 3 risk factors:

  1. High blood pressure
  2. High LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol)
  3. Smoking.

Other medical conditions and lifestyle choices contribute to heart disease like diabetes, being overweight, eating poorly, being sedentary, and a little too much drinking at the bar.

Can I now say that it’s damn hard to do all the right things all the time? Give yourself a pat on the back if you:

  • Are anywhere close to a perfect clean and green diet
  • Exercise half an hour a day most days of the week, bigger pat if that’s an hour a day
  • Meditate, do yoga and get regular massages to reduce stress
  • Sleep 8-9 hours a night
  • Enjoy only a modest glass of wine or two nightly
  • Have a happy family dynamic filled with acceptance, love and appreciation


As a dietitian and nutrition therapist, my recommendations are to start small to build big long-term positive habits. Begin with one of those bullets.

Say, the diet bullet.

Analyze your intake – is there a lot of color on your plate? If not, start there. Add a vegetable and fruit serving per day until you’re at 11 servings a day. Gasp! That’s 1/2 cup cooked, 1 cup raw – it’s easier than you think. Oh, by the way, fruits and vegetables are carbs!

Next, check out your grain intake, like bread, bagels, crackers, cereals, rice, pasta. Reduce this category to 4 a day – get most of your carbs from those 11 servings of vegetables and fruits.

Low-fat dairy, legumes (beans and peas), poultry, fish and lean meat round out the rest of your day’s meals.

Now, for fun, have 2 small sweets per day (1 small cookie, a teaspoon of sugar) and healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds) so you don’t feel deprived.

More coming this month on healthy eating, upping the ante on activity, stress management, and oh, yeah, that loving family.

Of important note, while there are some important numbers to know, like total cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and triglycerides, your doctor will be following new guidelines released in November 2013 by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology. These guidelines show less focus on cholesterol numbers and more on overall cardiovascular risk. You can calculate your own risk by going to the AHA website and clicking Prevention Guideline Tools, Cardiovascular Risk Calculator.

Colorful food is not only gorgeous, it’s good for you
H.E.A.R.T.Y. ways to Heart Health

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