Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, you may not realize that you are at risk of having a heart attack until it’s too late.
While there is very little you can do to change your family medical history, you can make lifestyle changes to lower your risk. First, learn about the behaviors that increase the risk of heart disease, and then start taking preventive steps.
Behaviors that Increase Heart Disease Risk
Eat a heart-healthy diet
Add these following foods to your diet. They are considered to be the main ingredients of a heart-healthy diet.
Vegetables – greens (spinach, collard greens and kale), broccoli, cabbage and carrots
Fruits – apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes and prunes
Whole grains – plain oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain bread or tortillas
Fat-free or low-fat dairy foods – milk, cheese or yogurt
Protein-rich foods – fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, lean meats, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy products and legumes (lentils and some bean types)
Oils, butters, nuts and seeds – canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower and soybean oils; nut and seed butters; walnuts, almonds and pine nuts; and sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds
Aim for a healthy weight
Body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height, is commonly used for determining weight category (underweight, healthy weight, overweight and obese). Adults are typically considered to be at a healthy weight when their BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9.
Use Johns Hopkins Medicine’s BMI calculator to help determine your BMI.
Improve your emotional and physical health by learning to manage stress and practice stress-reducing activities, including:
Seeing a mental health care provider
Joining a stress management program
Being physically active
Practicing relaxation therapy
Speaking with friends, family and community or religious support systems
Increase physical activity
Routine physical activity can lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and increase good (HDL) cholesterol levels, control high blood pressure and help with losing excess weight.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends the following:
Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week
Vigorous aerobic exercise – 1 hour and 15 minutes per week
Before starting a new exercise program, you should first ask your doctor how much and what physical activities are safe for you.
Speak with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking, and try to avoid secondhand smoke. If you are having trouble with quitting on your own, consider joining a support group.
Visit your doctor
According to David Jackson, M.D., a cardiologist on staff at HCGH, one of the critical steps to keeping your heart healthy is seeing your doctor for a routine physical exam. Your doctor checks your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar – the big three indicators for heart attack and stroke.
“If your numbers start to become abnormal, you may not feel different or experience symptoms, so it’s important to have them checked periodically and more frequently as you age,” says Dr. Jackson. “Having a primary care physician monitoring your care to identify trends in your numbers is important.”
Measure your health scale. [Credit: Iqoncept] / [Dreamstime]
A healthy weight is an important contributing factor in your overall health. It can help you prevent and control many diseases and conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers.
Determining a Healthy Weight
How much you should weigh is not as simple as looking at a height-weight chart. You need to consider the amount of bone, muscle and fat in your body’s composition.
The amount of fat your body carries is a critical measurement, and can be measured using the Body Mass Index (BMI). Our Adult BMI Calculator helps you determine if you are at a healthy weight, overweight or obese.
If your results indicate you are overweight, having extra body weight from muscle, bone, fat and/or water; or obese, having a high amount of extra body fat; you should consider speaking to your health care provider. While BMI provides a fairly accurate assessment, it’s not a perfect measure.
Achieving a Healthy Weight
Many factors can contribute to your weight, and while you may not be able to control factors like family history, the environment, genetics and metabolism, you can change your behaviors and habits.
The service providers of our Journey to Better Health program, a program that provides health monitoring and support services to Howard County residents and faith community members, recommend the following when trying to lose weight to achieve a healthy weight:
Set a goal
Your weight loss goal should be a realistic goal that you can accomplish. You should start slow and change only one habit at a time.
Conduct a needs assessment
Identify what you need to accomplish your goal. Make a checklist of supplies/tools and resources you need to support your goal. For example, identify the amount of healthy food options in your pantry. If you have little to none, you will need to stock up on your healthy food supply.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Empower yourself to make small efforts that can be repeated to make your goal come to fruition. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator or include a fruit or salad with your meal.
Track your progress
Whether it be on paper or a mobile app, recording your activity informs you of how you are progressing towards completing your goal. You may find you are on target or need to make improvements. It may seem mundane, but tracking your progress is critical towards achieving success.
Celebrate your success
Find healthy ways to reward your accomplishments. For example, schedule a massage or go line dancing with friends.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Continuing the healthy lifestyle changes you adopt, including eating a healthy diet and engaging in 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, are key to maintaining a healthy weight.
Successful weight maintenance is considered to be regaining less than six to seven pounds in two years and sustaining a reduced waist circumference of at least two inches.
For long-term motivation, ask your friends, family and health care provider(s) for encouragement, consider joining a support group and attend health screenings that assess your weight. Our Journey to Better Health program offers such screenings in the community for free. For a schedule of dates and locations, call 410-720-8788 or send an email to email@example.com.
The longer you can maintain a healthy weight, the more likely you will achieve long-term success.
With school starting soon, you’re probably busy with back-to-school activities, like buying clothes and school supplies, but is preparing your child’s school for his/her food allergies on the to-do list?
With a little organization, preparation and education, you can help keep your child safe from experiencing a food allergy reaction at school. We’ve created this list of tips to get you started.
Make an appointment with the allergist.
Discuss and update your child’s food allergy emergency plan for school, making sure the plan includes a photo of your child and your and the doctor’s contact information. Also, ask for any prescriptions that may need to be filled for the school.
Order a medical alert bracelet.
Along with your child’s name and allergy types, consider including that epinephrine should be given for a severe reaction.
Gather your child’s medical supplies.
Make sure all of your child’s medications are packed and ready to go to school. If it’s possible, provide the school with medications that will not expire; otherwise, make a note of the expiration date(s) on a calendar, so you’ll be ready to replace them before the expiration date.
If your child won’t have an epinephrine auto-injector on him/her at all times, provide one to the school nurse, your child’s teacher and any other school staff who will spend time with your child. The epinephrine container should be labeled with your child’s name, photo and emergency contact information.
Develop emergency plans with the school.
Speak with the school’s staff and make emergency plans for different scenarios, like snack time, lunchtime, classroom parties and field trips. Remind school staff they should give epinephrine immediately, then call 911 in the event of a severe allergic reaction.
Attend the school meeting.
Ask questions related to your child’s food allergy, including:
Where is the food kept, and where will your child eat?
Are tables cleaned with disposable disinfecting wipes? Sponges can spread allergens.
Which staff oversees snack and lunchtime, and do they discourage food sharing?
Can teachers give you several days’ notice of food-related events, including birthday parties?
Is food used as a reward in the classroom, and if so, can alternative rewards be given?
Are kids urged to wash their hands, instead of using hand sanitizer, before and after eating? Hand sanitizer gels do not remove allergens.
Is training provided to teachers on how kids describe allergic reactions (e.g. kids may say their food tastes spicy, tongue feels hot, mouth feels itchy or funny, or lips feel tight)?
Write a letter to other parents.
Your letter should include the allergies your child has, what can cause a reaction and the serious effects of a reaction. Explain cross contamination and how preventative measures can keep your child safe.
I love carbs! Technically, our bodies and brain NEED carbs. But the carbohydrates I’m referring to are the “bad” ones. The ones I grew up with: white rice, white potatoes, taro, and all kinds of breads. Frankly, I have a potato problem. I love potatoes in all their glorious forms! However, I am partial to a giant mountain of home made mashed potatoes. So, in order to keep an eye on my blood sugars, I trick myself with one of my favorite low-carb sides: garlic cauliflower mash. It’s a surprisingly delicious way to enjoy cauliflower while simultaneously satisfying those carb cravings for mashed potatoes.
Chop a head of cauliflower into florets. You can either blanch the florets in boiling water for 15 minutes, or stem the florets in the microwave or on the stove. You just need to get the cauliflower tender for “mashing.” While florets are cooking, get a small fry pan going with medium heat- then, drizzle a bit of olive oil, add a minced garlic clove. (At this point, you could add add a handful of spinach to lightly wilt in the pan or white beans or pesto or additional seasonings.) Whatever healthy, brave concoction you’ve created in your garlic pan, add to a food processor. Then, drain the water from your blanched cauliflower and add florets to the food processor as well. Blend in food processor with a little bit of salt/pepper, up to 1 Tbsp of butter, and splash of milk until its nearly smooth. Scrape down the sides occasionally. Keep an eye on its consistency so you don’t put it over the edge as a puree. You can also do this step manually with a fork or masher. Either way, it’ll be tasty. Dress up your mash with chives or other fresh herbs.
Another delicious and simple way to get more cauliflower into your diet: cauliflower rice!
My sister-in-love (as opposed to sister-in-law) bought some cauliflower rice from the store the other night. It was basically a head of cauliflower that was pulsed in a food processor and repackaged in a foam tray with a price tag and plastic wrap. Save yourself the extra cost and just get a head of cauliflower. Once your raw cauliflower is pulsed to the point of rice (or cous cous) texture, you should set a fry pan on medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil. You can then add a clove of garlic minced, along with a small white/yellow onion minced, maybe a handful of baby portobellas chopped. Saute until mushrooms are soft and onions are nearly translucent. At that point, add the cauliflower. This is a great base for any and all flavors you’re interested in creating. Simply season with salt and pepper or anything your heart desires! What’s great about cauliflower is that (like rice) it will absorb the seasoning beautifully. I’ve seen Indian cauliflower rice with cumin, turmeric, ginger, etc. The pellets of cauliflower will also absorb the colors of your herbs and spices! Try something fun like a Spanish style cauliflower rice or something Guam-style like achote red-rice (annatto seeds).
Cauliflower is pretty easy to work with, you just need to put in time. There’s all kinds of great recipes for cauliflower tots (like potato tots), cauliflower soup, cous cous like salad, cauliflower popcorn (deep fried cauliflower), “steaks”, tortillas- the only limit is your imagination! Try out our Paleo cookbooks for more ideas!
JP is the HCLS Editor & Blog Coordinator for Well & Wise. She is also a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch & STEM Education Center. She is a storyteller, wannabe triathlete, KPOP-addict, baker of cupcakes, cancer survivor, and liver transplant recipient.
“When it comes to eating right, I find it’s so important for food to be tasty, so that you’ll want to keep eating well for a lifetime,” so goes the opening to the super neat and scrumptious The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook, which covers everything from classic comfort foods to more exotic fare.
Essential to Jackie Newgent’s philosophy is simplicity, both with time in the kitchen and in choosing the freshest, least-processed foods. One of my favorite recipes in her book is “Buckwheat Banana Pancakes with Walnuts” (page 26). I was surprised to discover that buckwheat is not wheat at all but an herb of Russian descent. Central to Newgent’s cookbook is the idea that non-starchy vegetables promote an essential (and delicious) plant-based approach and that some vegetables can become the entrée, such as yummy cauliflower “steak” (see pages 256-257) “A good rule of thumb,” the registered dietitian nurse says, is “to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, whether grilled, steamed, roasted, microwave-baked or raw.”
Jessie Shafer, Food and Nutrition Editor for Diabetic Living, supports the half plate non-starchy veggies “ideal” as well. In the intro to the fabulously colorful and very user friendly cookbook Diabetes Meals by The Plate she explains that the trick to healthful eating is in how you arrange your plate. “Visually divide your plate in half and fill one of those halves with nonstarchy vegetables,” she begins, then “divide the remaining half of the plate in two and fill one quarter with a protein. Fill the last quarter with a serving of grains or other starchy food.” Diabetes Meals by The Plate features dozens of pretty, but more importantly, very tasty and healthy recipes. There are lots of offerings for people who like their meat, but also (and in a very neat and unique way) there are offerings for the vegetarian and “Caribbean Tofu and Beans” (see pages 182 and 183) just jumps off the page with vibrancy and the promise of a terrific meal, even for those normally wary of tofu.
Perhaps the most “foodie” of the cookbooks mentioned here, in terms of looks and taste, though (thankfully) not complexity, is the gorgeous (and mouthwatering) The New Diabetes Cookbook. One of my favorite recipes in the book is for “smoked gouda and broccoli lasagnettes.” (see pages 94 and 95) If you love lasagna as much as the author does then you might understand what she means when she says that one of the things she does not like about it is how easy it is to overeat it. That’s where “lasagnettes,” not lasagna, come in. Lasagnettes are mini lasagnas made in a muffin tin, where wontons are used instead of pasta, which saves on both both carbs and calories. Lasagnettes also travel very well and make for easy on-to-go snacks AND they freeze well.
Kate Gardner wrote The New Diabetes Cookbook knowing that cooking and eating well with diabetes is not always easy. There are the worries about carbohydrate content, blood sugar and making the “right” choices. All three cookbooks mentioned here focus on the belief that eating well with diabetes means eating whole, unprocessed foods in moderate portions. Jackie Newgent calls it “eating real” and makes cooking with vegetables a real joy, even to those who are not veggie lovers. Each color group provides distinctive health benefits and makes for terrific presentation in your meals as well as a tasty treat for your palate. It is the position of the American Diabetes Association that there is not “a one size fits all” pattern to eating and that is delightfully evident in all the wonderful and varied choices delivered in these three cookbooks.
Angie Engles has been with the Howard County Library System for 17 years, 14 of which were at the Savage Branch. She currently works at the Central Branch primarily in the Fiction and Audio-visual departments. Her interests include music, books, and old movies.
February is American Heart Month. President Obama stated in his proclamation, “Every person can take steps to reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease in themselves and in those they care about –whether as parents, caretakers, or friends—by encouraging healthy eating, physical activity, and by discouraging the use of tobacco.”
One of the ways to keep your heart healthy is to eat well. Howard County Library System has an extensive collection of cookbooks to help you get started. Go Fresh: A Heart-Healthy Cookbook with Shopping and Storage Tips is one of the cookbooks in a series by the American Heart Association. What I liked best about this cookbook is that most of the ingredients cited I have on hand in my kitchen or I know I can find easily in the grocery store. This cookbook includes in an appendix a list of the approximate equivalents in weight and volume for the most common vegetables and fruits. Also included in the appendices, are vegetable cooking times and a food storage guide. I learned it is best to store fresh herbs, such as parsley, dill, and cilantro, in the refrigerator in a juice glass half-filled with water and, covered loosely with plastic. Now let’s get to the recipes, which by the way, include desserts! My boys liked the Peppered Sirloin with Steakhouse Onions (p.167) and I liked the Ancho Chicken and Black Bean Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing (p.96). We are going to try the Buffalo Chicken with Slaw (p.147) next. I think I can even convince them to try one of the vegetarian entrées, especially if we can have Soft-Serve Blueberry-Cinnamon Ice Cream (p. 297) for dessert! Visit the library to find more cookbooks from the American Heart Association, including titles on slow cooking, reducing sodium, and reducing bad fats.
I also recommend Barbara Seelig-Brown’s Secrets of Healthy Cooking: A Guide to Simplifying the Art of Heart Healthy and Diabetic Cookingpublished by the American Diabetes Association. This cookbook is great for the new cook because it includes sections on building a pantry for healthy cooking, an essential equipment list, a kitchen glossary, how to read a recipe, and the must-know basic wine pairing. I found the fish know-how section very helpful. I am not a fan of seafood, so I liked the tip “…if you don’t like fish, then disguising it with strong flavors is for you.” There are colorful pictures throughout the book that illustrate step-by-step how to, for example, cook in parchment, steam shrimp, peal and chop garlic, cut a mango, cook with wine, make pizza/calzone dough, or a phyllo pie crust. My favorite recipes were the salad pizza (p. 28) and the crunchy quinoa stuffed zucchini (p. 99). The next time my kids are all home I might just feel brave enough to try the lemon garlic shrimp on a cucumber flower (p. 82). What I liked about this cookbook is that it is perfect for both the beginner cook and the experienced cook.
Healthy eating and cooking can make a difference in improving your cardiovascular health. Some of the foods that are heart-healthy include fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon and tuna, healthy nuts such as almonds or walnuts, berries, such as blueberries and strawberries, dark beans, such as kidney or black beans, and red, yellow, and orange veggies. You can find more information on heart healthy foods at Johns Hopkins Medicine. This month when you’re shopping for your valentine, remember that your loved ones need you to take care of the most important heart of all, your own. After looking at these cookbooks in your local library, you might just be inspired to cook a healthy-heart meal instead of making that reservation.
Nancy Targett is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She lives in Columbia and is the proud mom of three boys and a girl and a Siamese cat.