Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. One in three adults has some form of heart/cardiovascular disease.
What you may not know is many of these deaths and risk factors are preventable, or that food choices have a big impact on your heart health - even if you have other risk factors.
The good news: You can take control of the problem by taking these five steps to lower your risk for heart disease.
Saturated fats are found in some meats, dairy products, baked goods and deep-fried and processed foods. Trans fats are found in some fried and unprocessed foods. Both types of fat raise your LDL, or "bad" cholesterol level.
Focus on lean meats like fish, poultry, beans and egg whites. Avoid foods that have partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated fats in the ingredient list. The foods that have these ingredients are usually packaged or processed foods. Watch out with peanut butter make sure you get the all natural version without the trans fats.
Foods high in omega-3s include fatty fish, olive oil, and nuts and seeds. If you can't consistently add these foods in a regular basis you could consult with your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement that supplies 1,000 mg of omega-3 per day.
A few good high-fiber choices are whole grains, fruits and vegetables. A diet rich in these elements helps lower LDL cholesterol as well as provides nutrients that may help protect against heart disease.
Foods that are high in fiber should have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. If the food is whole grain it will list those grains in their whole form such as oats, whole wheat or bulgur in the first ingredients. Aim for at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day.
A low-salt diet can help manage blood pressure, while a low-sugar diet can help prevent weight gain and control diabetes and pre-diabetes. If you are choosing foods that are lower in sodium and sugar this will mean you are eating more whole foods and less processed. The whole foods will have more nutrients and antioxidants to protect the cells from becoming damaged which leads to the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
Plant sterols can be found in small amounts in fruits and vegetables. The plant sterols will lower the body's total cholesterol without lowering the good cholesterol.
Studies show that people who consume plant sterols while following a low-fat diet doubled their cholesterol reduction in comparison to those who relied on a low-fat diet alone. The reduction in cholesterol can be as much as 10-15%.
In order to get the benefit you need to incorporate foods that have the plant sterols added to them in a higher concentration. The list includes the butter substitute spread Benecol and the Benecol Smart Chews. There are lots of products claiming to provide plant sterols - be sure to stick with respected brands.
Some of us are more likely to develop high cholesterol than others, but making these five simple dietary changes can lessen the impact of the other risk factors. To get optimal results you should always couple these nutrition changes with exercising more often and maintaining a healthy weight.
For more information on heart health, check out http://www.americanheart.org
Rebecca Mohning is a Registered Dietitian and an Exercise Physiologist who believes that we can change our metabolism and achieve optimal health through proper nutrition and regular exercise. She has a Master's Degree in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's of Science in Dietetics from Iowa State University. She is a certified Personal Trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine. She specializes in weight management, performance nutrition, and eating disorders.