Heart disease is the leading cause of illness and death in the U.S. Many factors increase your risk of heart disease and heart attack: age, gender, family history, cigarette smoking, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and inactivity. While you cannot control some risk factors, a heart-healthy lifestyle can help decrease others. Take this quiz to see if you are good to your heart.
1. Do you smoke cigarettes?
Yes? Consider this: According to the American Heart Association, cigarette smoking more than doubles your chance of having a heart attack. Constant exposure to second-hand smoke also increases your risk of heart disease.
2. Do you eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily?
No? Consider this: Nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables are the key to heart healthy eating. Diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with decreased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure (another risk factor). Their low calorie and high fiber content can help with weight control, which helps out with yet another risk factor—obesity. Snacking on fruits and vegetables also helps lower sodium intake.
3. Do you eat a variety of whole grains?
No? Consider this: Like fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas also play an important role in decreasing your risk of heart disease. They have more nutrients and fiber than their white bread/processed food cousins. And, like fruits and vegetables, a diet high in whole grains leaves less room for foods that add extra calories and fat. Give brown rice and whole grain pasta a try instead of their refined counterparts.
4. Do you eat fish at least two times per week?
No? Consider this: Fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, bluefish, herring, lake trout, and albacore tuna) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which protect against heart disease. You can also get omega-3’s by using canola or soybean oil, ground flax seeds, and nuts like walnuts.
5. Do you eat fat-free or low-fat dairy products?
No? Consider this: The DASH study found that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products lowers blood pressure. Substitute fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese for higher fat versions of these products.
6. Do you drink alcohol more than an average of one drink/day (women) or two drinks/day (men)?
Yes? Consider this: While moderate alcohol intake may decrease your risk of heart disease, too much raises blood pressure, can cause heart failure, and contributes to obesity, among other dangers (alcoholism, suicide, accidents). The bottom line: If you drink, limit yourself to one or two drinks per day (for women and men, respectively); if you don’t drink, this is no reason to start.
7. Do you eat foods high in soluble fiber, like oats, apples, citrus fruits, and beans?
No? Consider this: Soluble fiber can reduce high blood cholesterol levels. Small changes such as having a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, snacking on fruit, and incorporating beans into your meals can help your heart.
8. Do you exercise at least three times/week?
No? Consider this: Exercise is important in weight control and prevention of other heart disease risk factors. Aerobic exercise (like walking, running, or swimming) helps burn fat, while strength training helps maintain muscle. Even simple changes, like parking a bit further from the door or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, add up to keep your heart in shape.
9. Do you eat lots of processed foods, cook with salt, or add salt at the table?
Yes? Consider this: Fast food, convenience foods, and a heavy hand with the salt shaker lead to a high salt intake, which can cause or worsen high blood pressure in most people. If you follow the other heart healthy guidelines—eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, lean meats, and beans—your salt intake should go down significantly.
10. Do you frequently eat meatless meals?
No? Consider this: High fat meats like hamburger and sausage are loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, which is bad news for your heart. You’ll get more heart healthy nutrients, more fiber, and less fat with meatless meals that are based on beans or lentils, vegetables, and rice or pasta. Also choose baked or grilled chicken, turkey, and fish more often than beef.
Only you can tell if you are good to your heart. And only you can do something about it!
By Hollis Bass, MEd, RD
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. But after learning that the quality of a croissant directly varies with how much butter it has, Judy sought to challenge herself by coming up with recipes that were as healthy as they were tasty.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.