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

Heart Health – Good News, Bad News

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist -
Feb 12, 2017 - 8:19:24 AM

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( - In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared February the first American Heart Month. Ever since, February has been dedicated to heart health and education. Though inroads have been made against heart disease, we still have a long way to go and in some cases our fight is losing ground.

With the exception of the flu pandemic of 1918 to 1920, heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the US since the early 1900s. Due to advancements in medical therapy, early intervention, reduction in smoking, and lifestyle changes, the US has made steady progress against heart disease. In the early 2000s, if the advances held, it looked like for the first time that cancer mortality would overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death in the US. Then something happened and the effectiveness of prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, heart disease and stroke decelerated substantially after 2011. From that point forward our efforts against heart disease have not seen the results we had enjoyed in the past.

Stephen Sidney, MD, of Kaiser Permanente Northern California reported in JAMA Cardiology the alarming facts that US efforts for heart disease prevention were slowing and the trend did not show any evidence of changing in the future. Though he did not speculate on the cause for these changes, in an accompanying commentary Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University did.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones looked back to the 1980s when we started to see an increasing prevalence of obesity and alarming increases in the number of people with diabetes. Close to 71% of US adults over the age of 20 are overweight and close to 38% are obese. Our children are following close behind. One-fifth of kids aged 6 to 19 are overweight and 10% of younger children weigh too much. Twenty-one million US adults have diabetes and we are seeing more cases of type 2 diabetes in teens and young adults than ever before. Many of these cases are driven by excess weight. As the rates of obesity and diabetes went up there was a concurrent increase in heart disease deaths. 

To slow these trends we need a reemphasis on health education, promotion and prevention. We have done a good job on reducing the amount of people who smoke and the US ranks second in the world for the least number of adults with high blood pressure – 15% of men and 11% of women. But, we also know that too few women pay attention to heart health. Most don’t realize that they should begin regular heart screening at age 20. One in 4 deaths for women in the US is due to heart disease and close to two-thirds of these women who died suddenly had no previous symptoms.

Here are 12 things you can do to protect your heart.

1. Eat less saturated fat (meat, bacon, lard) and trans fat (fried foods and solid shortening).

2. Eat more monounsaturated fat (olive, grapeseed, and canola oil) and polyunsaturated fat (corn, sunflower and safflower oil).

3. Eat more omega-3 fats (fish, olives, walnuts and walnut oil).

4. Eat more nuts and seeds (a handful a day is healthy).

5. Eat more whole grains and less sugar.

6. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

7. Get adequate protein but don’t overdo it and eat more plant-based proteins like tofu, nuts, nut butters and beans.

8. Eat regularly but don’t fast to feast later.

9. Don’t drink but if you do go easy.

10. Move often and move more – aim for at least 30 minutes of activity each day.

11. Don’t smoke, if you do make an effort to quit.

12. Get enough sleep – aim for 7 to 8 hours each night.

February is Heart Month – keep yours healthy.

For more information on heart health you may want to take a look at one of my latest eBooks, the Fat and Cholesterol Counter available from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:

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



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