Published on 01/22/09

Heart health for everyone

By Connie Crawley
University of Georgia

Every year we try to convince ourselves to adopt healthy habits that will reduce our risk of heart disease. Even though we understand the importance of making these changes, our American lifestyle makes it hard to do.

Weight control is one of the main ways to reduce the risk of heart disease. Over 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Much of the problem is due to physical inactivity, large portion sizes and eating out too often. Sadly, we are passing these habits on to our children, who are likely to develop heart disease even sooner than their older relatives.

Portion control can be difficult. Most of us clean our plates no matter how much we are served. Research shows that if people are given larger portions, they eat one-third more no matter how hungry they are. A good strategy at home is to use the smallest plate, bowl or cup available.

Serving sizes at restaurants have exploded in the last 15 years. To cut back, share a meal with someone else. You will save calories and money. If half an entrée is not enough, order an additional vegetable soup made with broth or a salad with light dressing on the side. If you are alone and cannot share, take the extra food home to eat the next day. If you ask, some restaurants will serve smaller lunch portions at supper.

At fast-food restaurants, order the junior sizes and ask for those special sauces, which usually add 100 to 200 calories and lots of fat, to be left off.

To quickly estimate your portion, think of a deck of cards. This is equal to about four ounces or half of a cup. A serving of meat, chicken or poultry or a portion of rice, potatoes or pasta should be about this size.

No matter where you eat, fill your plate with streamed vegetables and fresh fruits. Replace red meat with salmon, tuna, trout or other fish (not fried) at least twice a week. Also have nonfat and reduced-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. These are the best foods for your heart.

Eat more non-starchy vegetables like green beans, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, carrots and salad greens. To add flavor to vegetables, season them with herbs and spices or lemon juice instead of salt and sprinkle on a little olive or canola oil. If you have high triglycerides, eat less bread, potatoes, white rice and pasta. When you do eat bread, choose whole-wheat.

Make sure whole-wheat flour is first on the ingredient list. Wheat flour or enriched wheat flour are not the same as whole-wheat flour.

Use fruit for dessert and snacks. It is the original fast food and can be taken anywhere and easily carried in a purse, pocket or insulated lunch bag. You will be less tempted to have dessert if you know you have fruit readily available. Keep fruit portions to the size of a baseball. Again, larger servings may increase carbohydrate levels too much in those with triglyceride problems.

Eating right is important, but so is being active.

Walking briskly for 30 minutes a day reduces heart disease risk by about 32 percent. Increasing daily exercise to 60 minutes is even better for weight control. Consider both planned exercise, like riding an exercise bike or doing water aerobics, and activities of daily living like taking the stairs, doing yard work, walking to errands or washing the car.

(Connie Crawley is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension nutritionist with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)

Connie Crawley is a nutrition and health specialist with University of Georgia Extension.

CAES Media Newswire