This post was written by Lauren Neuenschwander, MS, RDN, Parkview Weight Management & Bariatric Surgery.
This February marks the 57th consecutive American Heart Health Month. President Lyndon B. Johnson was the first president to declare this federally designated event, and the tradition has continued. The reason for this designation? According to the American Heart Association, heart disease kills more people each year than all cancers, combined. Heart disease is especially lethal for women; it is the No. 1 cause of death for women each year. However, many of the risk factors for heart disease can be controlled through lifestyle modifications such as maintaining a healthy weight and eating a heart healthy diet.
The connection between weight and heart health
Being overweight or obese is one of the most well-known risk factors for heart disease. There are several reasons for this association. Overweight and obese individuals may have increased blood lipids such as triglycerides, low density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol. These lipids can build up in the linings of the blood vessels and cause them to narrow, potentially leading to a blockage. High blood pressure, which puts extra strain on the heart and blood vessels, as well as high blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) tends to be associated with being overweight or obese.
All of these factors increase the risk of developing heart disease. Decreasing excess body fat can help bring blood lipids, blood pressure and blood glucose into normal ranges, which in turn, can help to decrease the risk of heart disease. In fact, a weight loss of just 5-10% of your body weight can often improve these measurements.
An approach to healthy weight loss
One of the best ways to not only lose weight but also improve heart health is to eat a heart healthy diet. All foods can fit into a heart healthy diet, however the ones to include most often are those that provide our body with protein, energy, and vitamins and minerals. In general, the best diet for heart health is one that consists mostly of whole grains, low-fat dairy or non-dairy alternatives, lean proteins and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Making changes to the way that you cook can be one way to move toward a heart healthy diet. Choosing oils like canola or olive oil, instead of butter or lard, is a great start. Replacing white rice, pasta and bread with whole grain choices, choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy options, and picking lean sources of protein such as fish or poultry are also great swaps. If you are ready to change your diet, choose one or two small goals to get you started, instead of trying to overhaul your lifestyle too quickly. Your heart will thank you for the changes you make in your diet and lifestyle!