Shape your heart into health

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It’s no coincidence that February is home to both Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month.

Heart health deserves to be recognized for the sole fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, resulting in about one in every four deaths. It’s important to know the risk factors for heart disease and how to make positive changes to our eating habits and lifestyle in order to have a healthier heart.

Risk factors that may increase your chance of developing heart disease include having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, tobacco use as well as secondhand smoke exposure, excessive alcohol intake, not getting enough physical activity and eating an unhealthy diet.

The good news is that several of these risk factors can be positively influenced by simple changes in lifestyle, including what you choose to eat. Follow these heart smart tips to prevent heart disease at any age.

Reduce sodium

A common misconception is this can simply be done by eliminating the salt shaker. Doing this is a great first step. However, you may be surprised to learn that most of our sodium intake comes from processed foods. This includes foods like canned goods, packaged snacks, and frozen meals.

Aim to eat no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. For additional health benefits, it is recommended to reduce daily intake to 1,500 mg. For reference, one can of Progresso Chicken Noodle Soup contains 1,510 mg of sodium!

Choose foods with less sodium and prepare foods at home with little or no salt — instead use dried herbs and spices for extra flavor.

Limit fat

Dietary fats are an essential part of our diets. So rather than cutting out all fat, replace those bad fats (trans and saturated) with good fats (unsaturated). Saturated fats are found in animal sources such as meat and dairy products, as well as some plant-based foods like coconut oil. Unsaturated fats can be found in nuts, seeds, peanut butter, avocados, and oils like canola, corn, olive, and peanut.

Reduce saturated fat to no more than 5-6% of your total calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 13 grams of saturated fat.

Reduce sugar

There are two types of sugar: naturally occurring and added. Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits and milk. Added sugars are those that are added during preparation or processing; typically found in candy, cake, cookies, soda, fruit drinks (fruit punch or lemonade), some dairy products (ice cream or sweetened yogurts), and some grains (cereals).

Reduce consumption of added sugars. Fortunately, Nutrition Facts labels have evolved over the years making it easier to identify foods that contain added sugars. Now, instead of grouping naturally occurring and added sugars together, added sugars have their own line.

And last, but certainly not least, eat a variety of nutritious foods from all five food groups. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils and if you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.

Make your heart health a top priority and start practicing these tips today.

Jordan Luxa is a Food, Nutrition and Health educator for Nebraska Extension in Washington County. She can be contacted at 402-426-9455, jordan.luxa@unl.edu, or visit the Washington County Extension website at www.washington.unl.edu.

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