February is American Heart Month and a good time to remember that heart health should be a focus all year long.
Heart disease and strokes are the most frequent causes of death in the U.S. One out of three Americans between ages 40 and 75 die each year from heart attacks and strokes. And 60 percent of Americans will have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime.
Prevention is the key, but we tend to treat the symptoms of disease instead, all while embracing our unhealthy food culture.
You have other options.
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Two national doctors, known for their plant-based diet expertise, Drs. Dean Ornish and Caldwell Esselstyn, have developed diets clinically proven to prevent, and perhaps more importantly, reverse heart disease.
Esselstyn's plan is a vegan diet. Ornish's plan is a vegetarian one and includes nonfat dairy products and egg whites.
Other options, which have been proven to reduce risk but not reverse heart disease and stroke, are the DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, a flexible and balanced eating plan, and Mediterranean diets, which feature plant foods and some fish.
In late 2013, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute published new guidelines designed to reduce the risk of heart disease. They include eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as some fish, nonfat or low-fat dairy, lean poultry, nuts, beans and nontropical (not coconut or palm) oils.
Foods to minimize include cholesterol, saturated fats, trans fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oils), sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day, less than 200 milligrams per day if your LDL cholesterol is over 100 mg/dL or if you have heart disease.
How much cholesterol do foods have? One egg yolk: 212 milligrams, 31/2 ounces shrimp: 194 milligrams, 31/2 ounce chicken without skin: 85 milligrams, 1 ounce cheddar cheese: 30 milligrams.
Plant foods contain no cholesterol.
Skip that fast food egg and sausage biscuit, which contains almost 300 milligrams cholesterol, and try this high-protein breakfast instead.
If you have a rice cooker, you can add all the ingredients the night before and set the timer so that it is cooked when you are ready for breakfast.
Another healthy breakfast option is no fat added granola or other whole grain cereal. Serve with one cup of fruit of your choice, nonfat or nondairy milk or yogurt and a tablespoon of flax seed meal, for omega-3 fatty acids and more fiber.
Have a meatless dinner featuring legumes at least once a week. Try bean soup and salad with fruit or whole grain bread.
Snack on a small serving of nuts or have hummus and whole grain crackers instead of cookies, candy or chips.
Eat a vegetable and/or fruit with lunch every day.
The accompanying oatmeal recipe would fit into all of the diets mentioned above.
Oatmeal with Fruit
2 cups rolled oats or other rolled whole grains
4 cups soy milk or nonfat milk
1/2 cups dried fruit, such as prunes, raisins or dates
1 cup water
Sprinkle of ground cinnamon and allspice, optional
1 cup fruit, such as berries or sliced apple or banana
1 tablespoon flax seed meal, optional
Place oats, milk, dried fruit, water and spices in a large saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 7-10 minutes. Turn off heat, cover, and let rest for 10 more minutes. Mix with fruit and flax seed meal and serve. Refrigerate unused portions.
Nutrition: 348 calories, 4 grams fat (with 0.6 grams saturated), 5 milligrams cholesterol (none with soymilk), 60 grams carbohydrate, 6.5 grams fiber, 15 grams protein.
-- The Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance's monthly food column discusses how to reduce the risk or severity of health problems by eating better. More information at www.bfcha.org.