Health & Spirit

Nutrition News: Lowering your Risk of Heart Disease

Charlyn Fargo on

Lowering your Risk of Heart Disease

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women -- claiming the lives of one in three women. The good news is about 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases are preventable.

My mom, who recently turned 89, is a survivor, with two pacemakers, a stent and open-heart surgery. She's learned to eat healthier and put down the saltshaker.

She couldn't control the risk factors of her age, being female and a family history, but she could make a difference in her blood pressure, not smoking, lowering her cholesterol and being more physically active.

The American Heart Association recommends women "know their numbers" - by having a simple test to find out their total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index.

Here a few other tips on things women (and men) can do to lower the risk for heart disease:

--Not all fats are created equal. While saturated and trans fats are bad for you, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can actually be good for you. "Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy fats because they do not raise the "bad" LDL cholesterol in your body and may actually help raise your "good" HDL cholesterol," says Dr. Rachel Johnson, Robert L. Bickford Jr. Green and Gold Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont. "They also seem to have an anti-inflammatory affect and studies have shown that people who have that diets rich in these types of fats have lower rates of heart disease and diabetes."

--Stock up on vegetable oils. This can include everything from olive oil and canola oil to peanut oil and sesame oil. Monounsaturated fats are found in these oils as well as avocados, olives and various types of nuts, including almonds and peanuts.

--Eat more fish to incorporate polyunsaturated fats into your diet. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, trout and tuna are excellent options and also are high in Omega-3 fatty acids -- known to help with inflammation.

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--To get the nutrients you need, choose foods like vegetables, fruits, fiber-rich whole-grain breads and cereals and fat-free or low-fat dairy products most often. Foods that can help lower cholesterol include a variety of whole and multi-grain products such as bran and oats as well as foods rich in antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables. --Choose these foods less often -- fried foods; high-fat processed meats such as hot dogs and sausages; simple sugars found in soft drinks, candy, cakes and cookies; saturated oils such as coconut and palm oil and shortening found in partially hydrogenated margarine and lard.

Q and A

Q: What changes in my diet can I make that would help with regularity?

A: The two dietary and lifestyle changes that will help you the most are fiber, fluids and regular exercise. The fiber and fluids add bulk to stools and make them easier to pass. Exercise helps to move things along. Rather than taking fiber pills or supplement bars, eat bran or other fiber-rich cereal. If you take a pill or supplement and don't drink enough water, the increased fiber can make the constipation worse. If you want to try a supplement, get the kind you mix with water. Fruit is also a good source of dietary fiber. Studies have shown that prunes both draw water into the stools and stimulate the colon to move things along. The only catch is you need to eat about 12 prunes a day to get the full effect. If changing your diet and getting more exercise don't' work, you could talk to your doctor to figure out the cause. Certain medications, including those for high blood pressure or depression, can cause constipation. If you do need to take laxatives occasionally, they can be effective and are generally safe is used as directed. The two common types are osmotics and stimulants. Osmotics draw water into the stool; stimulant laxatives induce the colon wall to push stools along. -- Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.

Per serving: 326 calories, 27 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 17 g fat, 4 g fiber, 660 mg sodium.


Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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