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Heart Health Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

12 Steps To Protect Your Heart

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN - Food and Nutrition Columnist -
Feb 10, 2014 - 12:03:00 AM

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( - Every year approximately 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. This suggests that many people with heart disease don't act early enough. Initiating 12 healthy lifestyle strategies could reduce your risk for heart disease by up to 50%. Maybe you can't change everything about the way you live, but if you strive for small changes, over time, the results will add up. You'll feel better, you'll have more energy, and you will be healthier.

1. Eat less saturated fat and trans fat.

  • Reduce the amount of animal fat you regularly eat - meat, butter, bacon, cheese.
  • Try to eliminate as much trans fat as possible -- fried foods, solid shortening found in cookies, pastries and cakes.
  • The good news is that there is less trans fat in the foods on the market today.

2. Eat more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.

  • Eat more olive, avocado, walnut, grapeseed, sunflower, safflower, canola, corn and soybean oil.
  • We now understand it isn't how much fat, but the kind of fat you eat that increases your risk for heart disease.

3. Eat more omega-3 fat.

  • Eat fish often - at least twice a week.
  • Eat omega-3 rich foods, including flaxseed, walnuts, purslane, soy, and pumpkin seeds.
  • Try some omega-3 enriched foods - orange juice, soymilk, and eggs.
  • A number of large population studies showed that high omega-3 intakes reduced the risk for heart disease by 46% to 70%

4. Eat more nuts and seeds.

  • Rich in healthy fats, eating 2 servings a week can reduce your risk of dying of heart disease by 11%.
  • Regularly eating nuts helps to lower total cholesterol.
  • Nuts are rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
  • Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats.

5. Eat more whole grains and fiber and less sugar and refined carbohydrates.

  • Choose whole grains whenever possible - aim for at least 3 servings a day.
  • A food that is a good source of fiber has 3 grams of fiber per serving; an excellent source has 5 or more grams per serving.
  • People who eat whole grain cereal every day have a 28% lower risk for heart disease.
  • Switch from white bread to whole grain bread, white rice to brown rice.
  • Select whole grain cereal and pasta most of the time.
  • Eat less sugar but you don't need to cut it out completely.
  • Reduce the amount of soda and sweetened drinks you use regularly. Dilute presweetened drinks with sparkling water and drink more sugar-free, calorie-free water.

6. Eat more veggies and fruits.

  • There is no denying it, fruit and vegetables (including beans) are nature's superfoods - aim for at least 5 servings a day.
  • Berries - blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries - may boost HDL cholesterol.
  • Eat whole fruits and vegetables rather than drinking juice.
  • For each additional serving you eat daily, you decrease your risk for heart disease by 4%.

7. Think outside the box when it comes to protein.

  • Replace some of the animal protein in your diet with vegetable protein - try having at least 1 meatless meal each week.
  • Use meat to flavor dishes rather than dominate your plate.
  • Keep portions of meat reasonable, to about 4 ounces.
  • Areas of the world that eat the most animal foods have the highest rates of heart disease.

8. Eat regularly; don't fast then feast.

  • People who eat 6 small meals a day have lower cholesterol levels than those who eat 1 to 2 big meals each day.
  • Eating small frequent meals also helps to regulate blood sugar and triglyceride levels and promotes more reasonable portion sizes.

9. Don't drink. If you do, keep your intake moderate.

  • 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men should be max.
  • A drink a day has been shown to protect your heart but for some people it can raise triglycerides.

10. Exercise

  • Activity increases the blood flow through your blood vessels stimulating them to elongate, widen and form new connections which keeps them healthy.
  • Try to be active every day - aiming for 30 minutes of exercise. Vacuuming the rugs, mowing the lawn, or window shopping during lunch counts.
  • Exercise lowers triglycerides and boosts HDL cholesterol.

11. Don't smoke

  • Smoking isn't good for triglyceride levels - or anything else.
  • Less is better, none is best.

12. Get enough sleep.

  • Sleep-deprived people are at greater risk for heart disease.
  • Sleep-deprived people weigh more.
  • Sleeping helps your body restore and heal itself.
  • Aim for 7 to 8 hours a night.

Bottom line: A healthy lifestyle trumps genes when it comes to reducing your risk for heart disease.

To learn more about protecting your heart, check out one of my latest books, The Fat and Cholesterol Counter, Pocket Books, 2014.


© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Diabetes Counter, 5th Ed., 2014

The Fat and Cholesterol Counter, 2014

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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