DASH to a healthier heart

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Everyone’s first thought that comes to mind when thinking about February is of course, Valentine’s Day. Every year, this day is used to celebrate those we care about and love. Not only should we use this month to remember those who have taken a place in our hearts, we should also use this month as a reminder to keep our heart healthy. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, and it is very important that people know how to eat healthy to decrease their risk of developing this deadly disease.
Nutrition is one very easy way to lower a person’s risk for heart disease. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been designed by the American Heart Association as a “heart-healthy” diet. This diet has been shown to lower blood pressure, and therefore, lowering the risk for heart disease, a heart attack, and a stroke. The diet focuses on increasing foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free/low-fat dairy. DASH also replaces red meats with skinless poultry and lean meats, and it also includes fish two times a week such as salmon, trout, and herring because they contain beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids. These fatty acids decrease the risk for abnormal heartbeats and also decrease the triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood for a healthy heart. Increasing these foods can be very helpful in reducing a person’s blood pressure.
Many foods can be added to a person’s diet to have a healthy heart. There are also many items found in food that need to be consumed in lower amounts. Foods containing saturated and trans fats, such as red meat, need to be consumed less. The amount of salt consumed also needs to be lowered. The DASH diet recommends consuming 2300 mg or less of sodium for a heart healthy diet and 1500 mg or less of sodium to have the blood pressure lowering effects of the diet. Most processed foods have high levels of sodium. Followers of this diet may also want to limit their added sugars found in such things as juice and soft drinks. All of these things can be removed from the diet for a healthier heart.
Some of the items limited in this diet are unfamiliar to many individuals. They may not know what foods that can be found in, or how much is found in certain foods. One easy way to track how much saturated fat, sodium, and trans fats found in a food is to look at the food label. Try to pick foods that say “free” or “low” because they contain very little or no fat. Furthermore, the American Heart Association developed the “Heart-Check Mark” that they have put on the labels of products to help consumers pick heart healthy foods. Foods with this check mark meet the criteria for the recommended amount of sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fats found in one serving of a food. Using these tips can make it easier to follow the DASH diet and have a healthier heart.
After exchanging valentines this February, remember to take care of your own heart. The DASH diet is one easy way to have a healthier heart. By easily modifying your diet, you can increase your health and reduce your chance of developing heart disease to keep your heart healthy!
Editors note: Madison Hilgendorf is a dietetic intern for Lincoln Trail District Health Department.  Nutrition counseling is available for children and adults by appointment at the Marion County Health Center.  Monthly classes are also offered for weight loss and people with diabetes. For further information, call (270) 692-3393.