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Ask a Dietitian: Preventing Heart Disease

by Kristin Hancock, UCO Dietetic Student

Q: Some of my immediate family members have cardiovascular heart disease and high blood pressure. Are there any special foods that I can eat or things that I can do to prevent myself from getting this?

A: Cardiovascular disease, also called heart disease, is the leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One major risk factor for heart disease is high blood pressure, or hypertension. This is due to the damage on the blood vessels caused by increased pressure.

It is important to begin prevention early particularly if high blood pressure runs in your family. Prevention can begin with a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine. Consult your physician before beginning an exercise plan for the first time. In addition, if these conditions run in your family, it is best to get your blood pressure checked annually to ensure you have a blood pressure within the normal range.

There are no special foods that can automatically prevent you from getting heart disease or hypertension. However, you can begin by choosing foods low in trans fats, saturated fats and sodium. The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet has been used to prevent and lower high blood pressure. The DASH diet is one rich in fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy sources. It is also low in sodium and includes whole grains.

A great way to begin the DASH diet is to begin making small changes to your meals. Here are some examples to try:

  • Add blueberries, strawberries or another fruit to top off your morning cereal, oatmeal or bagel.
  • If you drink whole milk, try 2%. If you drink 2%, try 1%. The lower the fat, the better!
  • To lower your sodium intake, taste your food before adding extra salt. Use herbs or Mrs. Dash to season if you want to add more flavor.
  • Instead of snacking on packaged snacks such as chips that may be high in sodium, grab some carrots, grapes, low-fat yogurt or celery.

For more details, visit eatright.org or nih.gov and search “dash diet.”

For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.

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Contact Kelly Wells
Norman Regional Health System

Office (405) 307.2143
Fax (405) 307.2144
Email NRHS_Corporate_Communications@nrh-ok.com