Welcome to February; heart month!
Let’s start with a big bang.
I know this is intense and not at all the tone of my normal blog post, for that I apologize, but hey, this is super important.
For anyone who is already rolling their eyes, please skip to the last paragraph and read that first.
Want to save your heart? Or a friend’s heart? We all know to eat our veggies, reduce our stress, get our exercise, stop the smoking and stay away from fats! Today’s dialogue in our American culture, has made many of these points and we have listened to them, semi-successfully.
Today, we get serious. AND I hope with all of my “beating heart” that you:
Read this post, in its entirety.
Pass it on.
Today, I am suggesting, 3-very specific, heart-healthy diet habits that make a huge difference, but are not discussed as much, because they fall under the very large title “eat a healthy diet”. These are three big details. The long-term, health impactors.
Cardiovascular disease affects one in three adults. It’s even moving on to our children. Give credit where
blame credit is due:
- our over-processed-foods culture (think Cheeze-It’s),
- reduced physical activity (because of a variety of factors too lengthy to list) and finally,
- the effect that also affects (I know I’m getting deep here): our obesity epidemic (think 68% of American adults are “overweight”).
It’s a big cycle, as the wheel turns. We eat terrible foods, they make us feel terrible, therefore, we sit around, and as the wheel turns, we get larger and larger.
About 600,000 people DIE of heart disease in the US every year – which translates into:
1 death out of every 4 deaths. In other words, 25%. Further translation: 25 out of 100. Take it home: think of 100 people who you know on Facebook, now mark 25 of them off with a big FAT RED X.*
How about looking at it like this: I have 108 followers of this blog. 27 of YOU will die of heart disease.*
**Obviously these statistics are skewed since it’s like saying 100% of you are dead and 27 of you died of heart disease. And you don’t have 100 dead friends on Facebook; I’m trying to bring home a point = 25% is A LOT when you consider every other way you could possibly die in America.
It’s the leading cause of death among BOTH genders, not just men and not just women.
If you are white Americans (all decents), you have a slightly higher chance of dying of heart disease than other races in America. Only a few points behind, are black Americans (African decent). Followed by Asians or Pacific Islander decent.
All of these statistics come from the Center for Disease Control.
The concentrations of heart disease on our map of the USA are staggering! Take a look at the southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Oklahoma and West Virginia are not far behind. They are almost entirely dark red.
At some point, we have to make a change.
America’s children are facing, for the first time ever, a decreased life expectancy, than their parents. I know I repeat this statistic on this blog, a lot, but that’s because of it’s staggering implications. Think of a child’s life, with increased science and medical knowledge, at his/her fingertips. BUT instead of living longer and possibly more comfortably, our own terrible habits, that we pass on to them, stand in their way. Processed foods, sitting at a computer instead of exercising, playing video games and eating out, instead of making nutritious whole foods at home. All of these habits are shortening the lifespan of our children. And there are many other habits too.
I believe in statistics and their powerful influence over our culture. I think they inspire change and transformation. Knowledge is power.
Hopefully we can all, inspire change within each other.
It starts with consciousness with food. And it moves on from there.
Doctors say only 2% of us meet these heart smart targets, which can dramatically reduce our risk of heart disease:
~being physically active
~having normal blood pressure
~having healthy fasting blood-glucose levels
~having low cholesterol levels
~maintaining a healthy weight
~eating a healthy diet
Which percentage are you in?
If you’re in the 98%, how many of these targets are you meeting?
I want you to read this statement that I copied from the PDF from the American Heart Association titled Top Ten Things To Know About Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics:
#5 Healthy Diet – Less than 1% of U.S. adults meet the definition for “Ideal Healthy Diet”; essentially no children meet the goal. Of the 5 components of a healthy diet, reducing sodium and increasing whole grains are the biggest challenges.”
Take these steps today and teach your kids these habits too.
Choose Whole Grain
One seemingly simple and effective thing you can do for your heart is to choose whole grains! They are a great source of fiber, actually bring nutrients into your body (unlike refined flour, a.k.a. white bread) and they help to regulate blood pressure. Some even help to lower total blood cholesterol.
“If I were President of the USA, I would outlaw white bread” ~ me (disclaimer: if the president actually had that much power…)
This choice can make immediate and longterm impact on your health. Think about how many grains you consume each day or week. Eliminate the detrimental choices and think about the difference you will make for your heart.
It may seem hard to do, but take baby steps and eliminate slowly, until you are eating all whole grains.
You can do it!
Remember, if you don’t buy it, they will not eat it.
purchase whole wheat flour to bake with
buy only 100% whole wheat, whole grain breads, bagels, tortillas and crackers
eat whole grains such as brown rice, barley, buckwheat and quinoa
eat whole oats, such as steel-cut oatmeal or old-fashioned oat meal (not the instant or quick varieties)
purchase 100% whole grain pastas, no enriched flours
choose Triscuits (check out the ingredients list, phatandfit approved) or use cut zucchini slices instead of Ritz or other processed crackers
snack on popcorn from an air popper instead of a bag from the store or brown rice cakes with low-fat cheese or natural almond butter
eat white or refined flours, such as white breads, white tortillas, crackers, bagels or commercial muffins, ever
buy frozen waffles or pancakes, do make your own batter with whole grain, whole wheat flour and freeze them (or look for some in freezer section that use wholesome ingredients without a bunch of preservatives and added sugars)
buy processed foods such as quick breads, granola bars, cakes, pies, doughnuts or snack crackers, et al
eat corn bread, this high fat, nutrient void food is just bad for you, avoid it
buy refined, white pastas, especially those like egg noodles, ever
Reduce Your SODIUM Consumption
Sodium is an element that is actually necessary for your body to function properly. It becomes bad for our body in high doses (over 2300mg per day), for certain people with certain medical conditions and with chronic over use (holding steadily at the top of the consumption range, day after day).
The typical amount of sodium we should consume in one day is 1500mg (so, less than 1-teaspoon of table salt). The maximum amount we should consume in one day is 2300mg. The average American male consumes between 3100 and 4700 mg. The average American female consumes between 2300 and 3100 mg. The only reason there is a disparity is because of the differences in overall caloric intake, not because women are better at limiting it than men.
Sodium is a known factor in the development of high blood pressure (hypertension).
Yes, you read that right! There is a large percentage of our population that believe a little myth about sodium: that it is only bad for those that have ALREADY been diagnosed with high blood pressure. My own family taught me this. NOT TRUE. It can actually cause high blood pressure. If you’re telling yourself that your salt habit is not harmful, please think again.
There is truth in the fact that some of us are “salt sensitive” and that reducing intake of sodium helps to REDUCE blood pressure levels. This may be where the myth began. Somehow we got the idea that it’s only bad for “some” of us.
Women who exceed sodium intake suggestions chronically, may also be at higher risk for developing osteoporosis, regardless of calcium intake. For every teaspoon of salt that is consumed (remember 1-teaspoon is the daily recommended amount), considerable calcium is excreted in the urine. It doesn’t matter if your calcium intake is exceeded. In most cases, overindulgence in calcium is indicative of overindulgence overall, which includes . . . sodium.
Some athletes worry they are losing too much salt during workouts, but this is something doctors refute as a valid concern. The over indulgence in sodium, in American culture, ensures it will most likely be replenished during the next meal or even our next beverage. So, there is really no need to be concerned.
The biggest culprit for us, is not table salt. It’s our processed foods. If you need some help in determining salt levels and reading labels, use this interactive tool from the mayo clinic.
You will be very, very shocked by your levels, if you keep track for a few days. Most of us aren’t even aware that we are abusing it.
The BIG-TIME contributors are:
canned goods (although, you can rinse some of the sodium away), canned soups, canned meats, canned anything!
baking soda or baking powder (1 teaspoon of baking soda = 1368mg and 1 teaspoon of baking powder = 530mg) – think about your homemade banana bread
condiments such as soy sauce, steak sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, Worcestershire, salad dressings, mustard, relish….
butter and margarine
purchased baked goods
cured meats such as bacon or salami and most deli meats
cheese – most are packed with sodium
processed foods – too many to list – crackers, pretzels, cookies, chips, dips, frozen foods, some drinks, granola bars
THINK about anything with a shelf life
When you do your shopping, abide by a general set of rules when you’re in the produce department. The payoffs are big!
Generally speaking, choose color, but the key is variety. The lighter colors are good too, just make sure you choose color, as well:
choose dark leafy lettuce over light-colored varieties – example: choose arugula and spinach over iceberg and butter varieties
choose sweet potatoes over white potatoes
choose red cabbage over green and red grapes over green grapes
choose cantaloupe melon over honeydew melon
Make sure you eat a rainbow each day by incorporating these colors into your diet:
Orange and Yellow: sweet potatoes, carrots, mangos, apricots are rich in carotenoids and other antioxidants; most are also high in vitamin C and folate (key in heart health!)
Red: tomato, watermelon, papaya and pink grapefruits contain lycopene which is a big key player in preventing the development of heart disease and even some types of cancer
Blue and Purple: blueberries, purple grapes, red cabbage, beets and plums have deep colors that come from anthocyanins and phytocompounds that may help prevent heart disease
White: garlic and onions contain allicin, which may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure
Don’t forget these powerhouses:
eat plenty of bananas, apples, pomegranates, oranges, blackberries, swiss chard, cauliflower, peppers of all colors, cucumbers and squash varieties.
Shop the produce section by season to ensure a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Aim for colorful consumption over one weeks time, which can be less overwhelming than daily.
There are many other things you can do. Today we only talked about a few. Talk to your doctor for more information about your risk of heart disease. And visit the CDC website for details that could save your life.
Inevitably, there will be a negative response, to this blog post: “we are all going to die somehow” and so I want to address this, before I close. People say things like that because they are overwhelmed and sometimes fearful. It’s o.k. to be overwhelmed, but try not to discourage others while you’re at it. So, I’ll end this post with my response to the person that makes that statement with this:
“I would like you to go to the nearest hospital and talk with someone who’s just experienced a heart attack at the age of 50 – they will not be hard to find. I want you to talk with them about their life from this point forward (not their past) and what they are facing with their medications and surgeries and their fear that became a very real thing, the moment their heart stopped beating. Then, I want you to read this blog post with your quality of life for the last ten of your years, in mind. Oh, and that’s if you are lucky enough to survive your future heart attack. It’s a very real possibility that you could be one of the statistics. But you have a lot of control in your fate.”
Go forth. Make a difference. Today. If not for you, for your children.