When I read this week that former President Bill Clinton had two stents inserted into a clogged coronary artery, I thought of
my own family. I’ve been focused on eating a heart-healthy diet for more than 20 years and I’m only 34. Why? When I was in
junior high my dad was diagnosed with high cholesterol and Mom announced we were going to start eating more heart-healthy
. My mom, who’d lost her
dad—my Grandpa Bill—to a massive stroke at 62 (after he’d suffered several
heart attacks, strokes and open-heart surgeries) was serious about helping our family make important
lifestyle changes that beget healthier hearts
We’d be having more chicken and fish and fewer servings of fatty meat. She’d be serving more vegetables and fewer French
fries. Kind of like how Mr. Clinton, who used to indulge in fast food and donuts, revamped his diet.
Lucky for us, Mom made sure to cook heart-healthy meals that
were still delicious
. None of us felt deprived and my dad was able to lose weight. You can reduce your risk of
heart disease, too, by doing what we did, which was to…
1. Cut back on “bad” fats.
Eating lean proteins, such as chicken, fish and beans, in place of
fattier meats, you’ll limit saturated fats, which can elevate “bad” LDL cholesterol, leading to plaque buildup in arteries.
Other tactics to reduce sat fat: replace butter with olive and canola oils; select nonfat or low-fat milk and yogurt in place
of whole-milk versions; eat full-fat cheeses sparingly. And we now know that it’s just as important—and perhaps more
important—to also avoid trans fats, which also increase LDL cholesterol. Do this by skipping foods that contain “hydrogenated
oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil” in their ingredient lists. (Big culprits: packaged snacks, crackers, bakery goods and
some margarines.) Learn more
about Good Fats, Bad Fats
2. Eat lots of fiber.
Shoot for at least 25 grams a day. Studies link a high-fiber diet with a
lower risk of heart disease. Fill up on oats, beans and citrus fruits, like oranges, which provide the soluble fiber that
helps reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. (Sick of boring old
oatmeal? Find fresh ideas for oats
.) Whole grains, such as brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, boost intake of total
fiber (by way of insoluble fiber, which is also good for digestion) and can decrease levels of triglycerides, another
“unhealthy” fat in the blood, as a diet rich in refined carbohydrates may stoke the body’s production of triglycerides.
3. Exercise! Keeping active is a great way to stay trim, which, by itself, reduces risk for
heart disease—it also helps your heart in other ways: by lowering blood pressure and boosting “good” HDL cholesterol for
example. Schedule in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (e.g., brisk walking) each day.
4. Make friends with your doctor.
Eating well and exercise can go a long way in reducing your
risk for heart disease but, sadly, you can’t always assume that just because your body weight, exercise habits and diet are
healthy that your blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels are too. (Eating to control high
blood pressure? Get help here
.) Sometimes we end up with genes that predispose us to heart disease. (Given my
family history, I’m assuming that I may.) So it’s important to talk with your health-care provider about the these tests. If
you have a strong family history of heart disease, you might talk with your doctor about additional testing options.