Holistic Approach to Wellness
More than 600,000 people die annually of heart disease, and another 135,000 from stroke. It’s easy to start letting those statistics go in one ear and out the other, brushing it aside and thinking that despite your high cholesterol levels (which I see quite a bit by the way) or despite your high blood pressure, your condition is under control and you’ll be okay.
Heart health is affected by many factors: diet, lifestyle and even personal relationships. Though the mechanism is not clearly understood, it has been shown that love and intimacy can improve heart health; and conversely, isolation and loneliness increase risk of heart disease and mortality. And what about the role of diet?
The Facts on Fat
Contrary to popular belief, current research shows that a low-fat diet does not benefit heart health. In fact, when fat is replaced by refined carbohydrates and sugar, it actually increases the risk of heart disease. Strong scientific evidence shows that a higher relative intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats is associated with decreased heart disease risk. There is still debate about the effect of consuming saturated fats on heart health, but the current consensus among experts is that replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrate is more harmful for heart health than simply eating the saturated fat. However, replacing saturated fat with mono – and polyunsaturated fats does seem to benefit heart health. As mono and polyunsaturated fats take up a larger percentage of the whole diet, the relative percentages of saturated fats and refined carbohydrates decrease. According to the most current research, this dietary pattern reduces risk of heart disease.
The Sweet and Sour of Sugar
Increased consumption of refined sugars and flours is associated with increased weight and obesity, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. In fact, the “low-fat” diet craze has been implicated for the rise in obesity and heart disease because the fat was unintentionally replaced by sugar and refined flour. Unfortunately, even the gluten-free food market has become inundated with refined flour and sugary products that, while they are safe to eat, are not necessarily supportive of heart health. It’s important when going gluten free you are careful in how you replace your foods. Keep refined sugar intake to a minimum (25 grams per day) and save those gluten-free pastries and desserts for a treat. To learn more about gluten free visit www.karmic-health.com.
So What about Sodium?
Excessive sodium causes the body to retain water, which increases blood volume. As a result, the heart must work harder to pump this higher volume through the body, and blood pressure may increase. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. The main culprit for concentrated sodium is processed foods, especially processed meats, cheeses, canned soups and sauces, and even bread. Also keep in mind when you eat out a lot, restaurants use a lot more sodium to flavor foods then you can imagine. To reduce your sodium intake, try cooking more often from scratch and add lots of herbs, spices, vinegar, and citrus instead of salt. Yes, making your own healthy (organic) meals is key to overall health.
The Wonders of Fiber
Fiber is important to reduce blood cholesterol levels and can also help to maintain a healthy weight. The soluble fiber in foods (like apples, gluten free oats, and flax seeds) swells up in the digestive tract and binds some cholesterol and fat and carries them through the intestines for elimination. Good sources of fiber include fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, and gluten-free whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, teff, and brown rice.
Creating a Heart-Healthy Life
Beyond eating a diet that supports heart health and creating strong connections with people you love and trust, there are several key lifestyle behaviors that have been shown to significantly lower risk of heart disease: avoid smoking, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and manage stress. If all of these ingredients for a healthy heart seem overwhelming, you’re not alone. Take it one step at a time-perhaps commit to a 15 minute walk at lunch, or try a new gluten free whole grain each week.
When saturated fat may be good for you
Several studies in the past few years have suggested that saturated fats may not raise the risk of heart disease like previously thought, however, and more and more research is showing that plant-based saturated fats may have a neutral (or even positive) effect on cholesterol as compared to animal-based saturated fat, and might offer other health benefits as well. What sets coconut oil apart from other fats is the fact that more than half of it is made up of medium chain fats, also referred to as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). Unlike other types of fats (which are mostly long chain fats), these MCTs are rapidly metabolized, meaning they’re more easily burned as energy and less likely to be stored as fat. MCTs have also been shown to increase metabolism slightly, and help us feel fuller, faster. It’s for these reasons that coconut oil is heralded as a weight loss aid.
How you live your life affects the health of your heart
Taking the following steps can help you not only prevent but also recover from a heart attack:
Don’t smoke. If you smoke, the single most important thing you can do to improve your heart’s health is to stop.
Avoid secondhand smoke. Being around secondhand smoke can potentially trigger heart attack, since many of the chemicals in cigarettes that can damage your arteries are also in secondhand smoke.
Get regular medical checkups. Some of the major risk factors for heart attack – high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes – cause no symptoms in their early stages. Your doctor can perform tests to check that you’re free of these conditions. If a problem exists, you can manage it early to prevent complications that can lead to a heart attack.
Exercise regularly. Regular exercise helps improve heart muscle function after a heart attack. Exercise is a major part of a cardiac rehabilitation program. Exercise helps prevent a heart attack by helping you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and control diabetes, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure. Exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous. For example, walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week can improve your health.
Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight strains your heart and can contribute to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Losing weight can lower your risk of heart disease.
Eat a heart-healthy diet as mentioned above. Prepare heart-healthy meals together as a family. Fish, lean meats, beans and low-fat dairy (goat dairy if not intolerant) are part of a heart-healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants – nutrients that help prevent every day wear and tear on your coronary arteries. Think Mediterranean.
Manage diabetes. High blood sugar is damaging to your heart. Regular exercise, eating well and losing weight all help to keep blood sugar levels at more desirable levels.
Control stress. To reduce your risk of a heart attack, reduce stress in your day-today activities. Rethink workaholic habits and find healthy ways to minimize or deal with stressful events in your life.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Alcohol helps raise HDL levels – the “good” cholesterol – and can have a protective effect against heart attack (again, in moderation). For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. Excessive drinking can raise your blood pressure and triglyceride levels, increasing your risk of heart attack. Drinking more than one to two alcoholic drinks a day raises blood pressure, so cut back on your drinking if necessary. One drink is equivalent to 12 ounces (355 milliliters, or mL) of beer, 4 ounces (118 mL) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 mL) of an 80-proof liquor.
Source: Mayo Clinic