Cardiovascular disease (conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels) is the number one killer for both men and women in the U.S. “Heart disease accounts for one in every four deaths in the United States,” says Dr. Julie J. Ramos, cardiologist at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease and an estimated three-quarters of a million Americans will suffer a life threatening heart attack every year.”
Despite these sobering statistics, there is some good news. “In the past few years we have found ways to reduce primary and secondary cardiovascular events,” explains Dr. Ramos. “These include medical therapy with blood lowering medications and statins to control cholesterol levels.”
Ultimately, the best way to prevent heart disease is by following a heart-healthy diet and improving key lifestyle habits such as exercise and sleep quality. “Sitting for prolonged periods during the day, especially at work, is now recognized as an important risk factor for developing heart disease,” says Dr. Robert Glatter, attending physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. “Even if you exercise for 30 minutes a day aerobically, it's still important to get up out of your chair and walk around periodically throughout a workday. Standing or treadmill desks, and the use of a stability ball to sit upon which engages your core can help offset the negative consequences of prolonged sitting.” Dr. Glatter recommends a goal of “at least 30-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise three-four times per week.”
Getting adequate amounts sleep is also vital for heart-health, “since this can lead to increased calories and subsequent weight gain,” says Glatter.
Another way to reduce your risk for cardiovascular issues is to make simple but effective dietary changes. “The American Heart Association has published guidelines on an optimal heart healthy diet,” says Ramos. “The focus should be on whole food (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts) and intake patterns rather than previous emphasis on specific nutrients such as percentage of saturated fat or cholesterol intake.”
Ramos specifically recommends following the DASH diet (as per below) as it has “been shown to not only control hypertension but it has been found to promote heart health.”
Controlling portion size is also imperative. “How much you eat is just as important as what you eat,” says Dr. Glatter. “It's important to know the proper number of calories to take in to maintain your weight. That said, it's critical to have a matching amount and intensity of exercise and physical activity to balance your caloric intake.”
“In essence, it comes down to setting good practices and patterns of eating which ultimately can lead to long-term benefits to your heart and health,” says Dr. Glatter.
So, if you want to keep your ticker ticking follow the expert advice above and check out our guide to the foods you should be avoiding.
“Canned soups are popular especially in the winter months, because they are warm, hearty, and generally inexpensive. However, they are bad for the heart because they contain excessive amounts of sodium (salt). Excess sodium is unhealthy for the heart because it causes the body to retain water, consequently putting a burden on the blood vessels and heart, leading to high blood pressure and ultimately the possible development of heart disease. According to The American Heart Association, the daily-recommended sodium intake is 1,500 milligrams – or ¾ of a teaspoon per day. Canned soups do come in low-sodium varieties and are labeled accordingly. A canned soup that contains less than 140 milligrams per serving is considered low-sodium food. A low- sodium alternative to canned soups is to make your own broth-based soup with vegetables and lean proteins such as beans and chicken. This kind of soup will be high in fiber and protein and low in salt.”
Tanya Zuckerbrot, registered dietician and creator of the F-Factor Diet.
“Americans may love this dessert, but one piece (one Nutrition Labeling and Education Act serving) contains over 400 calories, 28 grams of fat (43 percent daily value), 12 grams of saturated fat (60 percent daily value), 69 milligrams of cholesterol (23 percent daily value), 548 milligrams of sodium (22 percent daily value), and 27 grams of sugar. All these numbers may seem confusing but all you need to really know is that 20 percent or more of daily value is considered high. Cheesecake is high in all of the above and dangerously high in terms of fat and saturated fat. Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Deborah Orlick Levy, registered dietician and Carrington Farms Health and Nutrition Consultant