Top Five Ways to Love Your Heart

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Cardiovascular disease is currently the number one killer in Canada and this is putting enormous strain on our healthcare system. Men are more commonly diagnosed than women, but the number of women affected is rising at an alarming rate. There are a number of factors that can increase your risk for developing heart disease including:

• smoking;
• diets rich in saturated fat;
• physical inactivity;
• stress;
• a family history of heart disease; and
• being overweight.

The good news is that a majority of these risk factors are modifiable. In other words, by making smart healthcare choices, you can dramatically reduce your risk of developing heart disease and can even help to reverse the disease once it has begun.

In order to keep your heart healthy, try implementing the following heart health tips:

Tip #1 -Eat Healthy Fats

Unfortunately, fats have received some undeserved bad press and there is still major confusion about what constitutes a "good fat" and what constitutes a "bad fat".
In fact, the "good fats" such as monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats are cardio – protective. In other words, they keep inflammation down, they do not clog arteries and help to maintain heart health. Examples of monounsaturated fats include olive oil and avocadoes. Examples of omega-3 fats (fats that the body cannot make and must come from the diet) include walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, wild Atlantic salmon, tuna, omega-3 eggs, flaxseeds and fish oils.

Tip #2 - Avoid the "Bad Fats"

There are two types of fats to avoid in order to protect the heart:1) saturated fats and 2) trans-fatty acids. Saturated fats are found in full-fat dairy products and red meats. These fats tend to be inflammatory when eaten in excess, are high in calories and can contribute to the clogging of arteries. It is best to make these fats less than 5% of your entire dietary caloric intake.

If saturated fats are the "bad" fats, then trans-fatty acids can be classified as the "very bad fats". Trans-fatty acids are initially vegetable oils that are flooded with hydrogen molecules to make them into a hardened form suitable for spreads. Food manufacturers love them because they are very shelf stable and easy to make. Unfortunately, the body does not love them at all! These fats play a major role in driving cholesterol up and increasing the risk for heart disease. In order to avoid trans-fatty acids, check your food labels. The indication of trans fats is now found on your Nutrition Facts Panel. Also, check the ingredient listing. If you see the words "partially hydrogenated", you have a trans-fat product in your hands. Luckily, trans-fat free products are now readily available in most grocery stores (e.g. trans-fats-free margarine).

Tip #3 - Go for Color

I can't say this enough – eat your fruits and vegetables! Colorful fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, raspberries, broccoli, squash, sweet potato, kale and spinach are all loaded with phytochemicals – plant chemicals that prevent disease. Even with this knowledge, recent research shows that Canadians are still not meeting their fruit and vegetable intake of 5 to 9 servings per day. A recent survey conducted by Statistics Canada showed that a majority of Canadians ate fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. In fact, 7 out of 10 children did not meet the minimum requirements for fruits and vegetables. Remember, you need to eat live food to feel alive! What does a serving look like? A serving is equivalent to:

• 1 medium-size fruit
• 3/4 cup (6 oz) of 100% fruit or vegetable juice
• 1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit (in 100% juice) or vegetables
• 1 cup of raw leafy greens
• 1/2 cup peas or beans — cooked dry, frozen, or canned
• 1/4 cup dried fruit

Tip #4 - Stress Less

We often underestimate the toll that stress plays on our body. From driving up blood pressure to causing inflammation, stress is a major factor in health. In order to reduce stress, it is vital to incorporate some de-stressing techniques such as meditating, working out, journaling, laughing, spending time alone and spending time with friends. Keep in mind that small stuff is exactly that, small stuff.

Tip #5 - Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for heart disease or a heart attack. From refined flours and sugars to inactivity and super sizing, more than half of North Americans are overweight or obese. In order to win the battle of the scale, it is important to understand how to eat in hormonal balance. In other words, the diet has to encompass all three macronutrients which include carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

In addition to the above recommendation, other tips for a healthy heart include smoking cessation and exercising on a regular basis. It is never too early to practice heart health techniques – start today!

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