When it comes to preparing food for myself and my family, heart disease is not the first thing on my mind. My thought process usually goes: what can I make that’s fast? What can I make that everyone will like? What can I make that won’t require the always dreaded grocery run? And what can I make that won’t leave a lot of leftovers because we all know no one will eat those?
That said, the health of my family is important to me and I have been trying to make a conscious effort to keep heart health at the forefront of my mind when preparing food for myself and my family. While heart disease doesn’t always seem like a prevalent issue, it accounted for one out of every 3 deaths in America in 2017. What’s worse, on a global level, heart disease accounts for 31% of all deaths.
With these statistics in mind, it’s definitely worth learning more about the risk factors for heart disease and learning how to keep your heart healthy. Know the risk factors, monitor your diet, and live an active lifestyle to help keep heart disease at bay.
Know Your Risk Factors for Heart Disease
There are multiple risk factors when it comes to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and I want to point out five that are important, and easy to maintain in our everyday lives. It’s really not as hard as you think!
Here are five important risk factors for heart disease and ways to keep your heart healthy.
1. Cholesterol - More than just the advertising platform for Cheerios.
Trans-fat, which comes from fried foods - think anything battered and dropped in hot oil - can raise your cholesterol. Having a high cholesterol is a warning sign of heart disease because of the buildup of plaque in your arteries. The more plaque you have, the less blood that can flow through your arteries which puts more stress on your heart to try to pump blood through these blockages. This is the main reason why fast food poses such a heart risk - the majority of it is fried! Even though that Happy Meal is cheap and convenient, there are other easy alternatives to unhealthy foods that your whole family will love! If you’re craving the crunch of fried foods, try baking or even air frying. And yes, regular Cheerios are a heart-healthy breakfast choice in moderation.
2. Blood Pressure - Do you know what your blood pressure is?
A diet high in salt is also a risk for your heart. Unfortunately, in most grocery stores today, salt is hard to avoid. There are high amounts of salt, also called sodium, in almost all processed foods including processed meat - think bacon, sausage, etc. Most frozen, kid-friendly foods, are also high in sodium. To avoid eating high amounts of sodium, purchase fresh meat and produce and cook food in ways where YOU can control the amount of salt in the meal.
This is a hard one. It’s a stressful world, and it’s easy to get caught up in work, family events, social events, etc. Often times we let stress build up and this can raise your blood pressure and add more stress on your heart causing your heart to have to work harder than it needs to. Find time in your weekly, if not daily, routine to do something that relaxes your body and your mind. Take a walk, read a book, take a hot shower, do yoga… whatever calms you down! It’s important to take time for yourself - your heart will thank you for it!
3. Healthy Weight - It’s all about how you fuel your body.
What you eat is the #1 most important thing that affects your body. What you put in your body is a direct correlation to what comes out of your body in terms of energy, productivity, attitude, weight, skin health, and much more. According to the American Heart Association, “a healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease.” By simply eating foods that fuel your body, you can work to bring down the risk.
Now I know, no one wants to diet. Just the word, “diet” often brings on stress, and stress eating for that matter! Preparing healthy food is especially challenging when you’re cooking for an entire family. When it comes to food, what’s most important is to first adjust your mindset towards food.
One of the simplest ways to keep your heart healthy is to make small, sustainable changes to your diet that will make it healthier. Don’t “put yourself on a diet,” instead, adopt a few healthier food alternatives that will fit into your family’s lifestyle. Think of eating as a time to fuel and recharge your body. There are also many ways to hide vegetables in foods and your kids may not even know!
...For example, skip the sugar and grate a carrot into your homemade tomato sauce for sweetness. Fix some cauliflower fried “rice” and your kids will never know the difference.
So, again, start small. Don’t overhaul your family’s diet all at once… it will just be overwhelming. By starting small, it’s easier to maintain and much easier to build on.
The American Health Association recommends eating a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially fish that contain omega-3 acids. Salmon and trout are good examples of fish that are high in omega 3. Skinless poultry and fish cooked in healthy ways should be a staple in a heart-healthy diet.
Staying active is so important when it comes to fighting obesity and lowering the risk of heart health. The American Heart Association has fantastic resources to help children and families get active and stay active to promote a healthy lifestyle.
As I mentioned before, many doctors recommend eating fish at least twice a week because of the heart-happy benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids. But why are these acids so good for you? According to the Mayo Clinic, “Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that may reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation in the body can damage your blood vessels and lead to heart disease and strokes. Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure slightly, reduce blood clotting, decrease stroke and heart failure risk and reduce irregular heartbeats. Eating at least one to two servings a week of fish, particularly fish that's rich in omega-3 fatty acids, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, particularly sudden cardiac death.”
Now, if you’re not really a fish fan, luckily there is an alternative. Supplements with Omega 3 like Omega XL, Omega Corcumin, and others are a good source of concentrated Omega 3’s and fatty acids. Brands like Omega XL, offer their supplements in smaller, easier to swallow pills that leave no aftertaste. This is perfect for those who want the heart healthy benefits of Omega 3’s but don’t like seafood. If you have picky eaters in the house - Omega 3 supplements are the way to go!
Another positive about Omega 3 supplements, is that they act as an anti-inflammatory. Inflammation either causes, or aids in, almost every kind of degenerative disease. This makes it a good solution for children, too! Win!
4. Diabetes and Sugar Intake - Why sugar isn’t so sweet.Consuming too much sugar raises your blood sugar and increases your risk for diabetes. Having diabetes increases your risk of heart disease as well.
The body produces a hormone called insulin which converts the sugars you eat into energy. If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to break down that sugar so you’re left with higher amounts of sugar in your body which build up in your blood and causes added stress to your heart.
Eating too much sugar in your daily diet can hinder your body from monitoring your blood sugar at healthy levels. When this happens, you increase your chances of developing diabetes.Before you can cut out excess sugar, you have to be able to identify it in the foods you eat. Sugar can be called lots of terms, including:
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt sugar
- Raw sugar
- Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
5. Tobacco Use - The best thing you’ve ever quit.
Smokers are up to six times more likely to have a heart attack as non-smokers. According to the American Heart Association, “Nicotine is a dangerous and highly addictive chemical. It can cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, flow of blood to the heart and a narrowing of the arteries (vessels that carry blood). Nicotine may also contribute to the hardening of the arterial walls, which in turn, may lead to a heart attack. This chemical can stay in your body for six to eight hours depending on how often you smoke.” But, it’s never too late to stop smoking. Once you stop, your lungs can begin to heal themselves.
The most important thing that you can do for your family is simply to be aware. Know the risk factors for heart disease, understand what foods you’re feeding yourself and your family, and be aware of the effects of diet and stress on your body. Understand the damages smoke can have not only on you, but anyone inhaling your smoke - including your children. By simply being aware, you can start to build a healthier life for you and your family.