American Heart Month

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Apparently February is American Heart Month but I must either be living under a rock or they aren’t doing a very good job of promoting it, because I haven’t heard anything about it until now. Actually, a friend mentioned earlier this month that some organization (I want to say the American Heart Association, but I’m not positive) was giving out free doughnuts in his work lobby to promote heart health awareness, ack! So many things wrong with that. Why not apples or even nuts?

Heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States among both men and women and claims the lives of 1 in 4 Americans each year, which means 600,000 people. And that number doesn’t include the amount of people who have heart attacks and don’t die from them (at least not right away). The best news about heart disease is that it’s completely preventable and even reversible! We can affect the outcome of our heart health simply by eating a proper diet, exercising, not smoking, drinking alcohol only moderately, and managing our stress.

What exactly is a “proper diet?” According to The American Heart Association, a heart-healthy diet looks something like this:

As part of a healthy diet, an adult consuming 2,000 calories daily should aim for:

  • Fruits and vegetables: At least 4.5 cups a day
  • Fish (preferably oily fish): At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce-equivalent servings a day
  • Sodium: Less than 1,500 mg a day
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: No more than 450 calories (36 ounces) a week

Other Dietary Measures:

  • Nuts, legumes and seeds: At least 4 servings a week
  • Processed meats: No more than 2 servings a week
  • Saturated fat: Less than 7% of total energy intake

The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily.  Remember, even simple, small changes can make a big difference in living a better life.

Dr. Esselstyn, a plant-based doctor who has reversed his patients’ heart disease with diet and the guy responsible for getting Bill Clinton to go plant-based to improve his heart health, would go even further to say people should eat an oil-free, plant-based diet. Ditch the meat completely, no dairy, just whole plant foods. My favorite quote from Dr. Esselstyn:

If the truth be known coronary artery disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never ever exist and if it does exist it need never ever progress.

Dr. Esselstyn isn’t the only doctor who has found that a plant-based diet can be used to treat heart disease. Dr. Dean Ornish has also conducted clinical research with his patients with great results. His program is proven and Medicare covers Dr. Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease. 

Of course, diet is one piece of the puzzle. All around healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise, not smoking, and handling stress well (we all have it!) are important to heart and overall health.

This ties into the research I’m doing right now for a symposium presentation at my college next month. My partner and I are studying the effects of vegetarian and vegan diets on health, specifically heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes. Some of the current research from the EPIC-Oxford study has shown that vegetarians have a 32% lower chance of hospitalization or death from heart disease than nonvegetarians. Studies on vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists have also shown them to have lower heart disease mortality, as well. And that is just the tip of the mountain of studies I have to read over…

I suppose what I’d like you to take away from this post is that we have an amazing amount of control over certain diseases that are rampant in our country. Please show yourself some love and take care of your heart! Eat lots of plants, do something relaxing when you’re under pressure (deep breathe, go for a walk, call a friend), and keep moving.

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