I’m back with another Wellness Wednesday edition, the one that I didn’t get up last week. I can’t wait to tell you more about Austin, but it’s an important month so I felt it was time for a nutrition-y post.
I have many clients with hypertension and high cholesterol. And, since February is National Heart Health Month, I felt it is important to devote some time to think about how we can honor the organ that keeps us alive!
Not to get into a health statistic lesson here, but heart disease is the leading cause of death (about 1/4 people die from heart disease). Often times, it’s hypertension, or high blood pressure that leads to heart disease. Having high blood pressure means the heart needs to work harder to pump blood through your arteries, which have (or are in the process of) becoming hardened.
Promoting Heart Health
Nutrition is directly linked to heart disease, as well as the other habits we include in our lives. Think exercise, eating sufficient fiber, avoiding excess sodium, not smoking, drinking water, managing stress. Let’s talk a little about each.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore, but can be any form of movement that you enjoy! Cleaning, yoga, pilates, walking, light weight lifting, biking, swimming, etc. While the recommendation is 30 minutes 5 days a week, really any movement you can get in is good movement! Even if that means sneaking outside during your lunch break for a walk, walking while you talk on the phone, or doing air squats at your desk, all of this can contribute to your daily goals.
Here’s one of my favorite posts about other ways to get in movement without planned exercise.
Eating Enough Fiber
Soluble fiber (the kind that forms a gel in our gut) can help lower cholesterol, which in turn, can reduce the amount of stress on our heart. Namely, fruits, veggies, whole grains, cereals, and legumes. This is one reason that I don’t recommend removing grains from your diet unless you have a medical reason to do so. By removing (whole) grains, you’re losing out on main sources of fiber, iron and nutrients, like iron and magnesium, things that many of us are low in to begin with.
Prioritizing that Healthy Fat
Polyunsaturated fats play a large role in our heart health! EPA and DHA, specifically, are polyunsaturated omega 3 fatty acids that our bodies don’t make efficiently. More on that below!
A shorter chain omega 3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is prominent in our diets. However, ALA does not have the same benefits as the omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. One function of ALA is to convert into EPA and DHA, though in humans, this conversion is not efficient nor enough. Therefore, it’s a good idea to incorporate direct sources of EPA and DHA into our diets. Both EPA and DHA are known to help with inflammation, they can help maintain blood pressure, and DHA has some further brain development benefits as well.
DHA and EPA are found in fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, and some nuts and seeds. Aside from food, you can also get through them Omega 3 supplements. The general recommendation for EPA and DHA is between 250-500 mg/day, but that number may be higher depending on your health conditions. I recommend talking with your doctor for your specific needs, and you do need to be careful if you are on blood thinning medications. I take two of these soft gels for a combined 500 mg/day (affiliate link).
Make sure you’re finding a supplement with sufficient concentrations of EPA and DHA. A 1,200 mg supplement of fish oil doesn’t equate to 1,200 mg of EPA or DHA.
Other good food sources…
Salmon and seafood (THESE!)
Nuts (specifically walnuts)
*all affiliate links
More reasons to include a variety of foods in your diets. Nutrition really plays such a vital role in our bodies, how we feel, and how our bodies perform for us. As mentioned, I take an omega 3 supplement daily. My diet isn’t perfect and sometimes I’m not getting the recommended two servings of fatty fish/week.
Other Heart Health Tips
Refrain from smoking
Manage your stress (Find ways to treat yourself!)
Moderate your alcohol intake (yes, 1 drink a day may have heart healthy benefits, but you’re losing those benefits with heavy drinking)
Keep an eye on your sodium intake, especially if you have a family history of hypertension (Ideally, 1500-1800 mg/day)
Eat a variety of foods
Limit saturated fats
Keep an eye on added sugars
Lifestyle plays such an important role in our health – are you constantly stressed? Do you take time to yourself? Are you doing what you love? These are all tough questions but ways we can mitigate stress and frustration can help with our heart health, believe it or not!
How do you work on your heart health?