February is Heart Health Month

Donna Krug, K-State Extension
Donna Krug

February may be the shortest month of the year but it is an especially good time to recognize the importance of making lifestyle changes related to heart health. Is it true that you are what you eat? When it comes to heart health, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Eating the right way is not about dieting, which is really a temporary change in your eating habits to lose a few pounds; it is about making better choices every day so that they become second nature.

Recommendations from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the Mayo Clinic web sites as well as the chapter about heart health in the Complete Food and Nutrition Guide book are the same. Cardiovascular disease – including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure – is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. Yet, all of the sources agree there are things you can do to control a number of the risk factors of heart disease.

A healthful eating pattern and lifestyle from the start are your best approaches for staying healthy and preventing disease, or at least slowing its course. Most health problems do not start with a single event in your life. Instead they are a combination of factors. Some you cannot control, such as your family history, gender, or age; but many you can. Today I would like to focus on the lifestyle choices you have control over.

As I was putting the finishing touches on revising a fact sheet I wrote ten years ago titled, “More Plants on the Plate” I am reminded at the importance of choosing more whole food plant-based choices every time you sit down for a meal or snack. Health benefits are gained when people increase their intake of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and nuts and seeds, while limiting the amount of saturated fat, added sugars and highly processed foods.

We know that eating certain foods can increase our heart disease risk. Fried food choices and sugary snacks are choices that elevate cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels; both important risk factors with heart disease. How much you eat is another important factor. Overloading your plate, and eating until you feel stuffed can lead to eating more calories, fat and cholesterol than you should be consuming.

One statement I added to my revised fact sheet came from the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. I want to encourage everyone to strive to consume more nutrient-dense foods and beverages. Nutrient-dense foods and beverages provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans, peas and lentils, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and poultry – when prepared with no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium – are nutrient dense foods. Those foods have the added bonus of high fiber which may help give you a fuller feeling. Then you will be less likely to load up on high calorie, refined, processed or fast foods.

For additional information about heart health, feel free to give me a call or send an e-mail. Next week we’ll visit about how increasing physical activity can improve heart health.

Donna Krug is the District Director and Family & Consumer Science Agent with K-State Research and Extension – Cottonwood District. You may reach her at (620)793-1910 or dkrug@ksu.edu