On the road to heart health, start with weight control. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight promotes overall health and prevents many diseases, including heart disease. Living with extra weight, puts an increased burden on your heart muscle. Being overweight or obese puts you at increased risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and other health
Here are five additional steps you can take for heart health:
1. Exercise more.
Being inactive is a major risk factor for heart disease. Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, has many heart related benefits. For example, exercise will strengthen your heart, improves circulation, and lowers blood pressure.
2. Cut back on salt.
Salt can hide in places you may not expect. Read food labels. For some individuals, a high sodium diet is linked to high blood pressure. High blood pressure puts excess work on the heart and can lead to stroke and heart failure.
3. Avoid trans fat.
Trans fat increase LDL cholesterol, increase triglycerides and lowers HDL cholesterol. The FDA no longer recognizes trans fats as “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. Read food labels and select heart healthy oil when cooking, such as olive oil or canola oil.
Internationally-renowned registered dietitian, Ashley Koff, has answered some questions on Omega-3 and Omega 6.
What are Omega-3 and Omega-6?
Ashley Koff: Omega-3 and Omega-6s are essential fatty acids (EFAs). Both are essential to the structure and function of our cells, and regulate critical aspects of brain function, metabolism, and immune-system health. We cannot make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in our bodies, so we have to get them from foods or supplements.
We need omega-3s in our diet to help prevent chronic inappropriate inflammation. Insufficient omega-3s are associated with a lengthy list of health problems including heart attacks and stroke. Unfortunately, most Americans get a high percentage of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids in their diets but not enough omega-3s. In fact, the average American diet now provides 20 or more parts omega-6s to one part omega-3s. That’s about seven times higher than the three-to-one intake ratio shown to deter major diseases and promote optimal health. We need to bring that back into a healthful balance.
There’s an easy, at-home way to check your own levels with a Vital Omega-3 and -6 HUFA Test kit. It’s available through VitalChoice.com, and is discounted to participants of the 100 Days to Better Heart Health Program. It’s a great way to know your omega balance starting point, as you challenge yourself to improve your ratio.
What are some common food sources of omega-6 that should be limited?
Ashley Koff: Omega-6 fats are found in the vegetable oils, such as corn and soy, that started replacing butter and lard in the 1960s. They are also found in most margarines, and in most baked goods as well as in fast-food meals and other restaurant dishes.
What are some top food choices you recommend to boost daily omega-3 intake?
Ashley Koff: There are two primary types of omega-3. The only type your body needs is long-chain (EPA and DHA) which is found in seafood. You can get short chain omega-3s (ALA) from plant sources such as flax, but the body can only convert less than 10 percent of dietary ALA into EPA, and less than one-half of one percent into DHA. That’s why it is best to try for two servings a week of fatty fish, such as wild salmon, sardines and tuna.
Do you recommend omega-3 supplements? Continue reading
Trans fats are produced during the process of hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated oils are used in food production to enhance flavor, texture, and shelf life of many processed foods. Partially hydrogenated oils have been used in food production for quite some time. It was in 1911 when Protor & Gamble began using partially hydrogenated oils in the shortening Crisco. The hydrogenation process, which results in trans fats, made it possible to stabilize oil.
The Health Concerns
Unfortunately, trans fats come with many health concerns. They increase LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels while decreasing HDL cholesterol levels. Trans fats are linked to stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.
In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), required food manufacturers to report trans fat content on food labels. Research shows this did help Americans to reduce their trans fat intake from an average of 4.6 grams per day in 2006 to 1 gram per day on average in 2012.
Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)
Any substance added to food is considered a food additive and must be reviewed and approved by the FDA. This review and approval does not have to take place if the food additive is generally recognized as safe under the conditions of its intended use among qualified experts. Up until now, trans fats have been on the “Generally Recognized As Safe” list.
Recently the FDA announced that partially hydrogenated oils (i.e. the primary source of trans fats) are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. This preliminary determination is based on current research findings and reviews of expert scientific panels. This means the FDA has begun a 60-day comment period to collect more data, as well as determine how much time is needed for food manufacturers to eliminate the use of partially hydrogenated oils in production.
What You Can Do
You don’t need to wait for food manufactures to change their methods. You can read food labels now to eliminate trans fats from your diet.
Here are some foods that may contain trans fats:
On July 11, 2013 research results from Brasky et al. were published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The concluded that high blood concentrations of omega 3 fatty acids were linked to increase prostate cancer risk. Researchers state these results support their 2011 findings that omega 3 fatty acids play a role in prostate cancer.
In the few weeks since this study was published, many doctors and researchers have weighed in with their viewpoints on the study results. Let’s sift through all the information and focus on what you need to know so you can decide if you should continue supplementing omega 3 fatty acids or not.
This study, released by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, analyzed participant data from the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). SELECT was a large randomized, placebo-controlled trial to test whether selenium and vitamin E reduced prostate cancer risk. SELECT was not a double-blind placebo controlled trial focused on omega 3’s and prostate cancer. Participants in SELECT had their omega 3 levels measured. It was the plasma phospholipid omega 3 levels of 834 men who developed prostate cancer and 1393 men who did not develop prostate cancer that was analyzed for this most recent research linking omega 3’s to prostate cancer.
Cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra points out valid concerns regarding vitamin E and its pro-oxidative effect on cholesterol. Oxidation causes the production of free radicals, which increases health concerns (ie cancer, heart disease, etc.). In SELECT, participants received 400 IU of dl-alpha tocopherol (one form of vitamin E). Many would argue that supplementing high levels of one form of vitamin E is associated with its own negative health consequences. Sharing this to show that the data analyzed from SELECT may have been ‘contaminated’ by the vitamin E supplementation which can impact results. Also, keep in mind that some participants were on prescription medications, were smokers, regularly drank alcohol, were overweight/obese, and/or had a first-degree relative with prostate cancer…all of which impact prostate cancer risk.
Omega 3 Levels
Here are the plasma omega 3 levels and the cancer risk found in this research:
Are you familiar with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet? The DASH Diet is a very effective plan to lower blood pressure. However, it can be difficult to follow, especially if you don’t currently consume many vegetables. The DASH Diet calls for 4-5 servings of vegetables each day. One vegetable serving equals one-half cup or a one cup serving of greens, such as spinach and lettuce.
Here are 3 easy to locate aromatic vegetables you can incorporate more into your daily diet for a variety of health benefits. Aromatic vegetables are used to add flavor to many dishes.
Onions – Probably one of the most often used aromatic vegetables in the United States. Onions are high in allyl sulfides, which aid in the fight against heart disease and cancer. Onions provide inulin, vitamin C, fiber manganese, and folate.
Celery – A great low calorie addition to meals, celery promotes a lower blood pressure. Celery contains Vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium and quercetin. Quecetin is a flavonoid with anti-inflammatory properties to protect heart health.
Garlic – Reduces atherosclerosis, which is the thickening of your arterial walls, and reduces cancer risk.