February is American Heart Month: Treat Your Heart Well

When I mention the cardiac diet I follow in upbeat fashion, I am looking to portray the genuine feeling that I really enjoy eating healthy. The game â€" and both my wife and I admit, the triumph â€" is being able to make tasty meals that are, in all seriousness, good for the heart.

When I mention the cardiac diet I follow in upbeat fashion, I am looking to portray the genuine feeling that I really enjoy eating healthy. The game — and both my wife and I admit, the triumph – is being able to make tasty meals that are, in all seriousness, good for the heart.

One of our trusty guide books for preparing different and surprising heart-healthy meals is Cooking Light magazine, published monthly. Usually there are three or four recipies we can try out and put into our book of "favorites." Making copies of these recipes for your patients isn't a bad idea if they're struggling to find and then make what they can and cannot eat. And coming from their doctor? That's taking an interest in their health, which for many patients, begins with their heart.

One of the major features in the March issue, an article by Maureen Callahan, gives “Fat-free nutrional advice.’’ I focus on this because my wife noticed the article first and we quickly realized we follow the five noted steps as far as eating healthy:

  1. Slash sodium. The American Heart Association recommends a person consume no more than 2,300 milligrams a day. That is equal to a teaspoon of salt. Many heart-healthy alternatives are available in the supermarket; your patients simply have to learn to read the labels. Put it this way: if they don't know that a diet low in sodium featuring whole grains, fruits, lean proteins and unsaturated dats — the Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension – will help their heart, they need to know.
  2. Go fish. The American Heart Association recommends at least six ounces of fish a week as part of a heart-healthy diet. We actually eat much more than that, in fact close to a pound over four days in a week. Here’s something to measure this against. Many cardiologists prescribe fish oil pills for a recovering heart attack patient. The question that was posed to me was, “Do you eat salmon twice a week?’’ I answered affirmative and was told that took the place of pills. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids — like salmon and trout – is linked to lowering triglycerides, perhaps reducing blood-clot risks and preventing abnormal heart rhythms. By the way, let your patients know that salmon hot dogs, available in many stores, taste as good as those made with beef!
  3. Eat your beans and legumes. Most beans will provide both protein and fiber, but ensure your patients check how much sodium is contained in canned beans. Washing and draining the beans will remove a lot of the sodium. Legumes such as spybean seeds and pea pods have been shown to be of help to the heart.
  4. Be wise about fat. More and more studies are mentioning it’s not just how much fat one eats, but what type. Luckily the worst type as far as clogging arteries - the trans fats — is being eradicated in many situations and there is a high level of attention being paid to them. You've no doubt explained to your patients that saturated fats in meat, butter, and cheese can also cause problems. But have you reminded them lately that unsaturated fats – monunsaturated and polyunsaturated - actually have benefits? And have you told them about those items, such as fatty fish, olive oil and many nuts?
  5. Go for whole grains. I was always a fan of wheat bread when I was young, and I enjoy whole-wheat products today. A 2007 study conducted by the Wake Forest University School of Medicine concluded two-and-half servings of whole grains per day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease 21 percent. Close to 90 percent of the bread, rice, breakfast waffles, and muffins and biscuits we eat are whole-grain. Unless your patients have a problem with a wheat-heavy diet, make sure this is top of mind for them. It's an easy switch!

Some thoughts for maintaining a healthy diet involve the use of technology, as found in the Reader's Digest article, "5 Health Gadgets That Could Save Your Life." Among them: an at-home blood pressure monitor from Timex®, the Accu-Curve® Digital Thermometer with INDIGLO® NIGHT LIGHT. The cuff goes over the wrist, then inflates at the touch of a button, providing three quick readings, and using a mathematical formula to calculate the most accurate result.

Find out what other preventative measures your patients can take in reducing their risk for cardiovascular disease by pointing them to the American Heart Association's website, where a slew of patient education information, health tips, and related activities are located.

A recovering cardiac patient can get ahead by focusing on what he or she can have, not what is verboten. One might be surpised about how satisfying heart-healthy eating actually is, but only if you let them know about it!