Let's Have a Heart-to-Heart: Tips for Preventing Heart Disease

The good news is that most heart disease is preventable. Although there are risk factors that we cannot control like our family history, our age and gender, there are many factors that we can control.
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According to the American Heart Association, heart disease accounts for nearly one in every four deaths in the United States and is the No. 1 death in women in the United States. The good news is that most heart disease is preventable. Although there are risk factors that we cannot control like our family history, our age and gender, there are many factors that we can control.

So, what can we control? Our lifestyle choices! We can quit smoking, increase our activity level, maintain a desirable body weight, and pay more attention to what we're eating. Heart-healthy eating is more attainable than you might think. Below I've mapped out some simple steps you and your family can take to get started now -- while we're focusing on American Heart Month.

• Eat more fish! It may sound simple, but it works. We know that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease, and fish are the best natural source of omega-3s. Current guidelines recommend that everyone -- including pregnant and breastfeeding women and children -- eat a variety of fish at least twice a week. And by a variety of fish, I do mean a variety; it could be salmon, canned tuna, tilapia, catfish, you name it. Considering that the average American currently eats less than the weekly recommendation, most of us need to increase the amount of fish we're eating weekly. This is particularly important for pregnant women, as avoiding or limiting fish during pregnancy can be harmful to babies' brain development. Fish is easy to incorporate into your diet -- I've included below a recipe for tuna fish tacos.

• Don't skip out on your favorites. Keeping your weight in check is a cornerstone to maintaining a healthy heart, but rather than restrict or eliminate the things you love, I encourage my clients to look for smaller portion sizes like a mini can of soda or a mini dessert or even share favorites. The reason is that depriving yourself in your diet is nearly impossible for most to sustain. Instead, if you can look at the overall calorie equation and balance your calories in vs. out, you can allow for celebration moments and favorites in moderation.

• Get creative with high-fiber foods. Dietary fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower your risk of heart disease. Add chia or flax seeds to your smoothies, top desserts and even entrees with whole wheat bread crumbs or chopped nuts, experiment with baked goods by substituting ¼ of the flour for whole grain flour or try other high fiber grains such as quinoa, amaranth or buckwheat.

• Go easy on the salt -- Countless research shows that eating too much sodium is linked to high blood pressure, so look for other ways to season your foods. Spices, fresh herbs, lemon or orange juice, and onions are some of my favorites both when cooking and at the table.

• Choose healthy cooking methods -- Skip the added fat called for in packaged rice and pasta mixes and season with fresh herbs and spices instead of oil and salt. Marinating in citrus juices will reduce using high fat sauces. Grilling and broiling will reduce the fat without sacrificing taste and texture.

Try this heart-healthy flavorful recipe:

Tuna Fish Tacos

1 can (6 oz) tuna
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground chile ancho
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh Lemon or lime juice
1/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, divided
3 cups shredded lettuce or coleslaw
4 corn tortillas, warmed
1/2 cup finely shredded Mexican style cheese

In a small bowl, mix tuna fish, garlic powder, mayonnaise, lime juice and 1 tablespoon cilantro; gently fold all the ingredients.

To serve, build tortillas with lettuce, prepared tuna fish, cheese and remaining cilantro.

Yield: 4 tacos

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