Health Insights column: Five foods to eat or avoid to prevent heart disease | VailDaily.com

Health Insights column: Five foods to eat or avoid to prevent heart disease

February is National Heart Health Month, with Valentine's Day signifying love, relationships, family and the heart. With all of this celebration centering on the heart, I would like to discuss how we could take better care of our heart, given that cardiovascular disease remains the No. 1 killer of adults in the United States.

Heart disease should be a concern, no matter your age, given that I even see high blood pressure, high cholesterol and atherosclerosis in children. Yet, the majority of cardiovascular disease is preventable and treatable with dietary changes, physical activity and targeted nutritional supplementation.

Lifestyle interventions, along with supplementation, have a broader benefit than pharmaceuticals because they address the dysfunctions that underlie chronic disease, rather than treating the symptoms. In treating cardiovascular disease, everyone is different, since there are many causes such as stress, insulin resistance, inflammation, obesity, etc. Therefore, an individual approach is best.

Here are five foods to eat — or avoid — in order to prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol:

• Fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, which include EPA and DHA, work with the cellular membranes, decreasing inflammation in the cells that causes most cardiovascular disease. Fish oil can reduce blood pressure, lower triglycerides, improve insulin resistance, prevent and treat metabolic syndrome and reduce arrhythmias. Therefore, eating cold-water fish, which includes wild salmon, wild cod, halibut, trout and sardines, three times a week is recommended.

If you are unable get fresh fish then consider taking a fish-oil supplement. The key is taking a good-quality fish oil with no polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead or mercury because if you take poor-quality fish oil, then this can actually cause heart disease. Manufacturers should be able to prove product purity. A good dose would be 2 to 4 grams per day.

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• Oats have been shown to lower cholesterol by 20 percent to 30 percent. Oats are very high in fiber, so they can pull cholesterol out of the body. Steel-cut oats are best eaten three times a week. I recommend oats with cinnamon, nuts and berries. Oats are a carbohydrate, so adding nuts for the protein source is recommended.

• Cut back on red meat and dairy products. Red meat and dairy are loaded with saturated fats. Saturated fats clog our arteries, causing arthrosclerosis, and increase cholesterol, thus increasing our risk for heart disease and even cancer. Fish would be a better alternative, or chicken and turkey without the skin, as well as nuts, tofu, eggs or beans and rice.

• Eat your veggies. Adults should be eating at least five to 12 veggies per day. Vegetables are where we get all the vitamins and minerals in our diet. Vegetables are also high in fiber, thus they lower cholesterol. Easy ways to get five or more veggies in are veggie soups, chicken soup with veggies, vegetarian chilies, salads and stir-fry veggies with tamari ginger and garlic.

Try doing a vegetarian night one day a week. Studies show vegetarians have a lower risk for heart disease and cancer. The key is making sure you are getting enough protein from eggs, tofu, nuts and beans and rice.

• I do not want to forget about dark chocolate (meaning 60 percent to 70 percent cocoa beans) and its benefits to the heart. Dark chocolate is an antioxidant, therefore preventing our cells from free-radical damage. It is loaded with flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory effects. Chocolate can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and blood pressure.

So, give the gift of dark chocolate for Valentine's or any other holiday; you only need small amounts to impact your health. Moderation is the key with chocolate because it does contain some sugar.

Preventing heart disease is also all about knowing your numbers, such as your cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, vitamin D levels, homocysteine, C-reactive protein, glucose and sedimentation rate.

February is a good time to pay attention to your heart. If you are having chest pain, shortness of breath, arrhythmias or trouble breathing, then get checked out by your doctor. Health is about paying attention to your body; do not ignore your symptoms.

Deborah Wiancek is a naturopathic physician who has had a family practice at the Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic & Pharmacy for 18 years. She can be reached at 970-926-7606, or visit riverwalknaturalhealth.blogspot.com or follow twitter.com/riverwalk.