Nutrition for Today: Six key factors of heart health
Former President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the first American Heart Month in 1964. Ever since then, the month of February has been dedicated to cardiovascular health, and is designated as a time to commit to lifestyle changes that can lead to a healthy heart and a healthy life.
Dietary habits are a key component of a heart-healthy lifestyle. These habits affect our risk of developing heart disease and premature death. They include dietary cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, sugar and alcohol.
Our liver produces all the cholesterol our bodies need for our brain and nervous system, hormone production and digestive function.
We also get cholesterol in our diet, from animal products, which includes beef, pork, poultry, seafood, dairy products and eggs. When we have too much cholesterol in our bodies, it can cause plaque to build up in the blood vessels, resulting in blockage and ultimately heart attack or stroke.
We should limit our dietary cholesterol intake to no more than 300 mg per day in order to prevent excess plaque build-up in our arteries. If you limit your meat intake to six ounces per day, and consume two to three servings of dairy per day, that will keep you within your 300 mg limit.
Saturated fat in the diet is a key culprit in plaque formation and heart disease. Pay attention to food labels on packaged food so that you are aware of how much you are consuming.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that saturated fat contribute no more than 10 percent of our total daily calories. For an average 2,000-calorie diet, that comes to 22 grams per day.
Trans fats are the worst of the bunch. They increase our LDL (bad) cholesterol, and decrease our HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fats are typically formed when liquid fats, such as vegetable oils, are hardened to form a solid. These are called hydrogenated fats, because the process of hardening the fat involves the introduction of a hydrogen molecule into the structure of the fat.
Essentially, any trans fat is too much. Again, check the food label to see if any is present. It will be listed on the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged foods.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that trans fats are no longer “generally recognized as safe” and is currently taking steps to remove them from the food supply.
Sodium has a direct effect on blood pressure, and therefore on heart disease. Although some sodium is necessary for the functioning of the human body, excess amounts can cause health problems.
Sodium is widely used in the food manufacturing industry, and it is therefore increasingly difficult to limit sodium.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a limit of 2,300 mg of sodium per day. It is easy to exceed this amount if you eat out in restaurants and consume processed foods.
Restaurant foods typically contain between 1,000 and 3,000 mg of sodium per serving.
Processed foods, particularly tomato products and soups, usually contain at least 1,000 mg per serving. Be sure to check out the food label on products to determine the sodium content.
A good rule of thumb is that if a product contains 400 mg of sodium or more per serving, it is considered a high sodium food.
Excess sugar intake has been associated with heart disease risk. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit their added sugar consumption to no more than 24 grams per day; men should consume no more than 37.5 grams per day. But this is where it gets confusing.
The current food label only lists “total sugar,” which includes both natural and added sugar. It’s only the added sugar that we’re concerned with here.
The good news is that the FDA has mandated a revision to the food label which includes the addition of “added sugar.” This new label is currently being phased in, and will be fully in place by January 1, 2020.
Heavy alcohol consumption increases risk of heart disease due to its effect on blood pressure.
Women should consume no more than one drink per day; men no more than two. Just so you know…”one drink” is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor.