heart shape filled with various colors
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Quiz: What’s Your Risk of Heart Disease?

? Do you smoke?
? Do you exercise less than three or four times a week?
? Do you eat a lot of fatty foods, such as fried foods, including French fries, cheese, hamburgers, and ice cream?
? Do you consume more than two servings of red meat each week?
? Are you overweight?
? Do you have high blood pressure?
? Is your cholesterol count high?
? Do you drink more than one five-ounce glass of wine per day (or the equiva­lent in other alcoholic drinks)?
? Do you eat oily fish less than twice a week?
? Do you eat fewer than five portions of fruit and vegetables a day?

If you answered yes to more than three questions, I would highly recommend that you follow the guidelines in this chapter to switch to a heart-friendly lifestyle.

Action Plan:

1. Follow a Healthy-Heart Diet

Saturated fats: We have known for years that meat and dairy products contain saturated fats (hard fats) that can contribute to atherosclerosis, so these foods should be eaten in moderation. Also harmful are trans fats, many of which are chemically altered types of fat created from polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower oil. Trans fats, used as ingredients in processed foods such as burgers, sausages, pies, cakes, and cookies, were banned from food pro­duction in the US and Canada in 2018 but are still permitted in some other countries, including the UK and Australia.

Diet, Exercise, and Meditation: According to research as far back as 1990, diet can be as effective in combating athero­sclerosis as drugs or surgery. In the study, a group of people with severely blocked arteries went on a very low-fat vegetarian diet along with an exercise and meditation program, at the end of which the plaque in their arteries was found to be reduced.

Isoflavones: Research suggests that isoflavones can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. A meta-analysis of the effects of soy protein containing isoflavones on blood lipids showed beneficial reductions in serum total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, with increases in beneficial HDL cholesterol.

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Monounsaturated fats and Omega-3: Not all fats are harmful. Monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil, and the omega-3 essential fatty acids (found in flaxseeds, pumpkin, and walnuts as alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) need to be included in the diet. The body converts ALA to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found naturally in oily fish, to produce anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.

Oily fish: Most experts now agree that to reduce your risk of heart disease, you need to limit your intake of saturated animal fats, increase your intake of omega-3 EFAs, and include heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, such as those found in virgin olive oil, in your diet. You should also try to eat oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies at least twice a week. The omega-3 EFAs in these fish can help protect against heart and circulatory disease.

Coconut oil: Coconut oil has recently been widely promoted as a healthy alternative to other cook­ing fats. While there is little robust research to justify some of the health claims made about it, it is true that coconut oil is a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT), which means that it’s used as an energy source, and therefore less is stored as fat. However, it also contains saturated fats, so moderation is needed. Coconut oil has a high melting point, meaning that it’s safe and stable to use for high-temperature cooking, unlike sunflower or corn oils.

Alcohol: For heart health, it’s important to drink alcohol only in moderation, as it can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s also important to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. This ensures an adequate intake of dietary fiber, which helps eliminate the “bad” LDL cholesterol from the body. Fruits and vegetables are also loaded with antioxidants, which help protect the arteries from damage and keep blood flowing smoothly.

2. Cut Down on Salt

Table salt, or sodium chloride, is associated with fluid retention — you may have noticed puffiness and bloating following a very salty meal. Some of the fluid retained as a result of excessive sodium intake is pulled into our blood vessels, increasing the volume of fluid inside the vessels and causing high blood pressure (hypertension). Over time, high blood pressure overstretches and damages blood vessel walls and contributes to the buildup of harmful arterial plaque that impedes blood flow. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart failure, as it forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. It can also lead to strokes. High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because it often has no apparent symptoms until a serious or fatal heart attack or stroke occurs. Ninety percent of American adults are expected to develop high blood pressure during their lifetime.

For many people, controlling salt intake is an effective means of managing blood pressure. Avoid eating salty processed foods or adding salt to food while cooking or at the table. Use other condiments, including herbs and mild spices, to add flavor. Seagreens is a great salt substitute derived from seaweed. It provides a number of good nutrients without the downside of sodium found in regular salt.

3. Get Moving

Regular aerobic exercise at least five days a week will help keep your heart and circulatory system in good shape. 

4. Give Up Smoking

If you are still puffing away, give up now, for the sake of your heart. Smoke-damaged arteries attract fatty deposits that restrict the blood flow to your heart. Smoking also damages the lungs, making it harder for the heart to supply the body with oxygen. In addition, it can make blood stickier and more likely to clot, which can lead to a blockage in an artery resulting in a heart attack or stroke.

5. Five “Hearty” Things to Do Today

1. Leave your car at home and walk to the supermarket or work. 

2. Go for a thirty-minute walk at lunchtime. 

3. Listen to some music and get dancing. 

4. Use only a small amount of butter or a low-fat spread on your toast. 

5. Don’t put the salt on the table or add excessive amounts of salt to food when cooking.

Copyright 2020 by Maryon Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher
New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com.

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About the Author

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