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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Take Health to Heart
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Dr. Cindy Anderson

Heart disease is America’s leading killer and people are at increased risk if they are overweight, have high blood pressure, or have a high blood LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level.

About half of all U.S. adults have risk factors for heart disease. Two out of three are overweight or obese.  One in four has high blood pressure.  In North Dakota, as in the rest of the country, these numbers have been increasing for more than a decade.   

You can reduce your risk for heart disease by choosing foods that help you maintain a healthy body weight, and by avoiding foods that contain trans-fats and too much salt, or its key constituent, sodium.

Trans-fats, are not natural.  They are produced when vegetable oils are treated by a process is called “hydrogenation.” That process makes oils more stable and extends the shelf life of processed foods made with them.  Yet, evidence indicates that trans-fats can increase risk of heart disease by raising LDL-cholesterol.  Avoiding trans-fats can help you reduce your LDL cholesterol and increase your “good” HDL cholesterol.  You can avoid trans-fats by being a food-label reader--check food labels and select foods free of them.   

Reducing sodium will be easy for most people in the United States because typically, more salt is consumed than is needed. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans calls for consuming no more than 2,300 mg of sodium each day, and less than 1,500 mg for people who already have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease.  So check out the sodium contents in foods before you buy and when you eat out. 

Avoiding trans-fats and too much sodium calls for understanding foods and making good food choices.  Here are some easy tips:  Look for “heart healthy” foods in cafeterias and on restaurant menus.  Consider fruits and vegetables – either fresh, frozen, or canned without added salt.  These are likely to be better choices than processed foods.  Look for foods labeled with lower sodium and no trans-fats. Be aware that some sports drinks contain relatively high amounts of sodium to replace salt lost in sweat during vigorous exercise.  Such drinks may not be good choices for everyday refreshment.   Instead, choose water and fruit juices low in sugar and salt.

It is estimated that a “Million Hearts” can be saved by avoiding trans-fats and too much sodium.  The “Million Hearts” campaign is a national government initiative that was launched to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over five years.  In North Dakota, this effort is supported by local Community Action Grants funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, the North Dakota Department of Health and the American Heart Association. 

Local efforts include teaching kids and adults about eating fewer trans-fats and less salt and working with people who purchase foods for cafeterias and restaurants to offer healthier choices.  These efforts involve the University of North Dakota College of Nursing, the Grand Forks Public Schools, the Grand Forks Park District and Y-Family Center.

Take an easy but important step to promote your heart health by checking out online resources that help you figure out your personal risk for heart attack.  For example, find ways you can get heart-healthy at http://millionhearts.hhs.gov/resources/tools.html.  Test your salt know-how at http://www.heart.org/ HEARTORG/quizTemplate.jsp?pid=ahaweb.quiz.quizintro& quizId=100001.  And find more information about healthy eating at  http://www.choosemyplate.gov.

Join in making Grand Forks heart healthy!


Last Modified: 10/22/2012
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