For those of you who haven’t heard, February is National Heart Awareness Month. Heart disease is the #1 cause of death amongst Americans today. It is without question your genetics plays a role in your risk of developing heart disease; however, the other two forces that can make or break the likelihood of you becoming a statistic comes down to YOUR own diet and fitness choices.
You would think with all the marketing that goes into our food labels (calling out products that are “fat-free”, have “0 grams of trans fats”, or are “high in Omega 3s”), it would be easy for us to go to the market and pick up healthy items, right? Wrong! Even as a dietitian I have to stop and read labels to interpret what the heck all the flashy buzz words on the front really even mean.
Let’s take the Special K brand products as an example of what I like to call the “health halo” effect. Snacking on a Special K 90 calorie bar seems like a good option for a mid-morning snack in comparison to the donut that may be staring you in the face. In this case, absolutely it’s a better choice. However, if your option is the 90 calorie bar or the handful of mixed nuts at your coworkers desk, choose the nuts!
Although the Special K bar is lower in calories, when considering overall nutrition it’s not the best pick. Nuts are filled with heart healthy unsaturated fatty acids that help not only regulate your blood pressure but leave you feeling satisfied for a longer period of time. The Special K bar is a filled with empty calories, has practically zero fiber and protein, and even has a bit of trans-fat in it!
Trans-fat is the “bad fat” that lurks in many processed foods and is recommended to be avoided in our diets. Although many manufacturers have banned the use of trans-fats, some food companies are able to sneak it into their products (like the Special K bar) when they do so in amounts that equal less than 0.5 grams per serving. So, in theory if you are eating multiple “100-calorie” packaged items throughout the day, you are most likely exceeding your trans-fat limit despite the labeling reading 0 grams of trans-fat.
Other ways companies like to sneak trans-fats into their food items are under the names “partially hydrogenated” or “fractionated” followed by the oil in use. Regardless of the way its hidden, the fact is these fats go into our bodies and cause build up in our arteries that can lead to heart disease. Continually eating a diet that contains trans and saturated fats (those found in red meats and animal products like butter, whole milk and cheeses) increases our risk for developing atherosclerosis (a technical term for heart disease caused by narrowing of the blood vessels) that can lead to heart attacks, strokes and ultimately death.
Incorporating fitness into your lifestyle is also a great way to help decrease your risk of developing heart disease. Although diet has a major impact, increasing your level of exercise has proven to increase your HDL levels (aka health lipid level in your blood) that helps rid your body of the bad guys (aka LDL cholesterol).
One important thing you can do for your health starting today is knowing what you are putting in your body. I like to think of my body like a car. Your body is your vehicle through life; if you want to enjoy the ride, you better make sure you fuel it right!
|Denise Barbarino…aka Our Champagne Lady
Proud mother of 5, grandmother of 10, great-grandmother of 2!
Heart Disease Survivor-Our Hero