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Nutrition News: Healthy Hearts

Charlyn Fargo on

February is American Heart Month, a time when we focus on heart disease, the No. 1 killer of Americans. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who suffered a heart attack, issued the first proclamation in 1964. Since then, U.S. presidents have annually declared February American Heart Month.

Each year, 1 in 3 women are diagnosed with heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. My mom suffered from heart disease most of her life, and at the age of 89, her heart gave out.

This year, as we continue to battle COVID-19, taking heart-healthy steps are even more important because the coronavirus can have harmful effects on the heart and vascular system. Our home lockdown means many of us are engaging in unhealthy lifestyle behaviors -- such as eating poorly, drinking more alcohol and limiting physical activity -- that can contribute to heart disease.

How can we get back on track? Consider the DASH eating plan. It's been proven to reduce risks for cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol levels. While similar to the Mediterranean diet (also considered heart-healthy), the DASH plan is lower in sodium and includes low-fat dairy. It is also rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Compared with the Mediterranean, red wine and olive oil aren't in the spotlight.

To get started, pick one or two goals to work on at a time. Try replacing some of your protein or carbohydrates with a serving of vegetables at lunch or dinner, or build your breakfast around fruit, such as fresh or frozen berries, and low-fat Greek yogurt. Try eating fish or seafood twice a week, or swap a soda with water flavored with a lemon or cucumber slice.

The good news is that, in most cases, heart disease is preventable. The key is a healthy lifestyle, which includes not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, treating high blood pressure and getting at least 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity.

 

Q and A

Q: Is extra weight a risk factor for breast cancer?

A: A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds excess weight is an established risk factor for postmenopausal breast cancer. Researchers pooled data from 10 different cohort studies to see if losing excess weight after age 50 might lower the risk. Losing just 4.5 pounds made a difference. Higher weight loss was associated with even lower risk. Loss of at least 20 pounds was associated with lowest breast cancer risk, even if some of the weight was gained back.

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