Nutrition and Heart Disease: Portion Control, Risk Control

Family history and genes play a role in your risk for developing heart disease, medical experts say. Fortunately, some risk factors are within your control.

“You can’t change genetics or your family history, but you can lower other risks,” says Lucette Talamas, a registered dietitian with Community Health at Baptist Health. “Your diet can affect your risk factors for heart disease.”

The numbers are sobering: Every day in the U.S., about 2,150 people — one every 40 seconds— die from some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.

But a healthy diet can make a difference, Ms. Talamas says.  Here are some facts about heart disease and nutrition.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is the soft, waxy substance found in your bloodstream and in all body cells.  There are two types of cholesterol:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) joins with fats and other substances to build up on the inner walls of your arteries. This process, known as atherosclerosis, leads to clogged and narrowed arteries that restrict blood flow, which can result in a heart attack or stroke.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL or “goodcholesterol) helps protect you from strokes and heart attacks by carrying harmful cholesterol away from your arteries.
  • What are the sources of cholesterol?

    Approximately 75 percent of blood cholesterol is generated by your liver and other cells. The food you eat is the source for the remaining 25 percent of your cholesterol.

    What are trans fat?

    Trans fats raise the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol, while lowering the amount of helpful HDL cholesterol in your body.  Many processed, prepared and fried foods contain trans fats, including:

  • Doughnuts and other fried foods.
  • Cookies, muffins, pie crusts, cakes, biscuits and other baked goods.
  • Frozen pizza.
  • Snack and fast foods.
  • Margarines and spreads.
  • Saturated fat consumed in larger amounts is associated with higher levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Common sources of saturated fats include:

  • Animal sources, including meats and dairy.
  • Baked goods and fried foods.
  • How can you tell if a food item contains trans fat?

    Even if you read food labels, detecting the presence of trans fat can be tricky.  That’s because under regulations, if a food item has less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving, a company can list “0g” trans fat on the “Nutrition Facts” panel.

    Therefore, it’s important to reading the ingredients list and see if “partially hydrogenated” is listed, which means the food has trans fat.

    What about fiber?

    Fiber: A healthy diet contains 25-30 grams of fiber each day.  Fiber helps with digestion and, in particular, soluble fiber helps you maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Good sources of fiber include beans, legumes, whole grains, (especially oats), fruits and vegetables, including apples, strawberries and citrus fruit.

    “In addition to the fiber, these foods have a wealth of nutrition, containing many important vitamins and minerals,” Ms.  Talamas says, adding: “It is best to get your fiber from food rather than taking a supplement.”

    Remember: It is also important to boost your fiber intake gradually, to prevent stomach irritation. Also make sure you drink enough water to prevent constipation, she says.

    “You can modify your cardiovascular risk by eating a balanced diet of foods in their most natural state, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fatty fish, lean or plant-based proteins,” Ms. Talamas says.

    Healthcare that Cares

    With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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