UK HealthCare

The Gift of a Healthy Heart

The following column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday, Feb. 11.

Give Your Valentine the Gift of a Healthy Heart
Maria G. Boosalis, Ph.D., MPH, R.D., L.D.
Professor Emeritus, Division of Clinical Nutrition, College of Health Sciences

Giving a gift for someone’s heart on Valentine’s Day can mean a lot of different things — like making a special Valentine’s Day dinner or giving a box of fabulous chocolates. In reality though, the best gift would be to practice "heart healthy" behaviors. These behaviors, to mention a few, include maintaining a healthy weight, staying smoke-free and physically active, and of course, including a "heart healthy" way of eating.

What is this "heart healthy" way of eating? For one, it’s eating to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and to lose weight if told to do so by our health care professional. Why is that? It’s because being too heavy increases our risk for heart disease. Generally achieving and maintaining a healthy weight means monitoring our portion sizes, reducing the "extra" calories we consume as high fat, high sugar foods and beverages and staying physically active, as advised d by our health care professional.

"Heart healthy" also includes monitoring the total amount and type of fat we eat. In general, we want to keep our fat calories to about 30 percent of our day’s total calorie intake. Of that 30 percent, no more than 10 percent should be from saturated fat and about 10 percent each from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 even suggest we ultimately aim for only about 7 percent from saturated fat. Regardless, we need to avoid eating foods that contain trans fat — so read food labels!

In addition to the type and amount of fat, a "heart healthy" intake includes eating a "rainbow of color" of vegetables and fruits daily. In fact, the new Dietary Guidelines recommends half of our plate be covered with vegetables and fruits — and they don’t mean as French fries or apple pie!

In this "heart healthy" way of eating, about half of our servings from the grain group should also be whole grains—like brown rice, 100 percent whole wheat bread/pasta/cereals, to mention a few. With respect to protein foods, "heart healthy" means monitoring portion sizes with about 3 ounces being an appropriate serving size; selecting leaner cuts of meat/poultry, trimming away visible fat or skin, broiling or baking instead of frying. Choosing more seafood/fish, cooked dry beans and peas, unsalted nuts and seeds as alternate protein sources is also recommended. Including fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk or milk products, in moderation, completes our "heart healthy" day’s intake.

Lastly, "heart healthy" also involves reducing sodium in our day’s intake. Again, the new Dietary Guidelines recommend all of us to reduce our daily sodium intake to less than 2300 mg/day. It further states that if we are African American, have hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or are 51 years of age and older, we should reduce our sodium to 1500 mg/day. In order to do that, we must start reading food labels to select foods lower in sodium and go easy on or even eliminate the salt shaker!

Remember, the best gift we can give ourselves and our loved ones this Valentine’s Day and beyond — is to practice ‘heart healthy’ behaviors everyday!

Reference: New Dietary Guidelines 2010