Open Your Heart (And Your Arteries)
February is heart disease awareness month. Heart disease refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to heart attack, chest pain and/or stroke. Other heart conditions that effect the muscles, valves or rhythm of your heart also fall into this category. It's the number one killer in the United States (over 200,000 people die daily) and other countries, such as Malaysia, where meat seems to be the star of the dinner plate. Contrary to popular belief, heart disease is not an affliction of old age, but rather a lifetime of poor lifestyle choices. And by a lifetime I mean by your young adult years. An examination of American casualties during the Korean and Vietnam war showed significant atherosclerosis (fatty plaques in the arteries that can lead to blockages causing chest pain, heart attack or stroke) by age 18 or 20. Their Asian counterparts, raised on diets consisting of mostly rice and vegetables, had much healthier arteries. There have been other studies extrapolating that most people following the standard American diet (read: lots of meat, eggs, dairy and processed foods) have some degree of atherosclerosis by age 20. So for many of us, it's really not a question of preventing heart disease, but reversing it. Fortunately this is possible with sustained lifestyle changes (and even without meds!).
Sending out an S.O.S.
So what can you do to help your heart?
1) Decrease cholesterol intake (better yet, ELIMINATE it). Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance, in all of our cells. The body needs cholesterol to make hormones, Vitamin D, and substances that help you digest food. However, the body makes ALL of the cholesterol it needs on it's own, so you DO NOT need to get any through food. Any food that comes from an animal, including red meat, poultry, fish, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products contains cholesterol. All plant foods, such as grains, vegetables, nuts, fruits, beans, and seeds are naturally cholesterol free. You can reduce your cholesterol level significantly by changing the food that you eat. Think plants!
2) Trim the fat intake, especially saturated fats. Animal products, such as meat and dairy, as well as fried food and vegetable oils are all loaded with fat. Animal products also contain saturated fat, which causes your liver to produce even more cholesterol. Even the leanest cuts of beef contain about 30% fat, compared to plant-based foods which contain less than 10%. Crowding out animal products with fruits, vegetables, beans and grains (such as brown rice and quinoa), will significantly reduce your fat intake.
3) Bulk up on Fiber. Although we are all concerned about protein, fiber should be where your head is at. It's very uncommon for anyone in an industrialized country to have a protein deficiency (yes, even us vegans), but fiber deficiencies are rampant amongst the U.S. population. Soluble fiber (which attracts water and turns to gel upon digestion) slows the absorption of cholesterol and reduces the amount of cholesterol your liver produces. There is no fiber in any animal product. The recommended daily amount of fiber is 20-35 grams/day, but the average American eats less than half that. (side note: adequate fiber intake also reduces the risk of colon cancer). Grab your grocery list and add: beans, peas, fruits, vegetables and whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, multi-grain bread, etc). Starting to see a theme?
4) Kick the butts. Smoking significantly increases your risk of heart disease. Connect yourself with a tobacco cessation program to help.
5) Move your butt. You don't have to be a marathoner. Regular light exercise, including 30 minutes of walking daily, significantly reduces the risk of death from heart disease. This can even be broken up into two 15-minute or three 10-minute sessions daily. Excuse your excuses and move your feet. It could save your life.
6) Chill out. Stress is bad for your heart. Breathe, meditate, downward dog and sleep well.
The body is an integrated system which means following all of these suggestions is the only way to throw that heart a life preserver. Broccoli, anyone?
Need more guidance when it comes to helping your heart? Contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to arrange a free health consultation.