By Erin Wisbey Martin M.D.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death in the US. There are five risk factors for CVD: high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking. These risks accounted for half of the CVD deaths in US adults but can be reduced with simple lifestyle changes. In particular, two areas of focus for the Year of Wellness, healthy eating and regular exercise to maintain an ideal weight have been shown to decrease these risk factors. A healthy eating includes daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, adequate fiber, foods with a low glycemic index (low carbohydrate/sugar foods), and healthy fats.
A primarily plant based diet is one aspect of healthy eating. The recommended intake is at least five servings of fruits and/or vegetables every day. Make them part of every meal. Keeping a bowl of fruit out will encourage healthy snacking for kids and adults. This will help increase fiber intake which has been shown to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease and colon cancer. Fiber is also great at helping to control blood sugar in people who have diabetes.
Grains with a lower glycemic index tend to be foods that are less processed such as 100% whole wheat bread/pasta, steel cut oats and brown rice. These should be chosen over refined grains and simple sugars such as white bread and rice, tortillas, potatoes, pasta, or dessert. A hidden source of carbohydrates (sugars) many of us don’t consider are the beverages we consume. Soda, sweetened drinks and even fruit juices are loaded with sugar and empty calories. Choose water or a piece of whole fruit instead. Moderate consumption of lower glycemic index foods and beverages has been shown to help with weight loss and a decreased risk of diabetes.
The types of fat we eat may be more important than the total amount of fat. The different types of fat can seem confusing, but the main point is that unsaturated fats from plants (seeds/nuts) are healthier than saturated fats from animals (butter/bacon) and synthetic trans fats (margarine/deep fried foods/commercial bakery treats). Omega 3 fatty acids have long been known to be a very healthy fat, these are found in certain seeds (flax seed) and fish (salmon). When cutting back on fats, it’s important not to replace these calories with carbohydrates. Instead replace them with plant based foods and lean sources of protein like tofu, beans or chicken breast.
Too much of a good thing, even “healthy foods”, can lead to overconsumption of calories and obesity. It’s very important to have a general idea of how many calories you should be eating per day. I recommend an honest discussion with your doctor to get an estimate of this. Metabolic needs depend on your age/height/weight/sex and actual activity level (not the exercise you aspire to do). Reading food labels is the next step to managing calories. The appropriate serving size corresponds to the accurate number of calories. If you eat two to three times the recommended small bowl of cereal for example, the calories you consume will increase exponentially. And as Americans, we classically consume unnecessarily large serving sizes. Portion control is key to preventing obesity and maintaining good cardiovascular health.
An excellent local resource to learn more about heart healthy nutrition is CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program). There are classes currently underway, and the next session will start in mid-March with a CHIP Information session on March 14 or March 16 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. For more information, contact Ginny Gabel, RN at Tillamook Regional Medical Center, 503-815-2270.
Dr. Erin Wisbey Martin sees patients at Adventist Health Medical Group – Manzanita Urgent, Primary and Specialty Care. Her specialties are family medicine and obstretics.