February 28, 2011

American Heart Month: Be Smart with your Heart!

By: Farrah Stewart, Bay Pines Dietetic Intern, Pinellas County Extension

Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke, are our nation's #1 killer. Since 1963, in order to urge Americans to join the battle against these diseases, Congress has required the president to proclaim February "American Heart Month."

Why is it important to choose a heart-healthy diet?
Making good food choices can have a big impact on your health and your pocketbook. The cost of treating heart disease and stroke in the United States is expected to triple in the next 20 years, to $818 billion.

Eating a heart-healthy diet can help you to:
  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Lower your cholesterol.
  • Reach and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Control or prevent diabetes.
  • Improve your overall health.
A heart-healthy diet is not just for people with existing health problems. It is good for all healthy adults and children older than age 2. Learning heart-healthy eating habits now can help prevent heart disease in years to come.

In the News
Omega-3 fatty acids have been gaining a positive reputation lately in regards to heart health and cardiovascular disease prevention; and it’s about time! Since the 1970s, numerous studies have shown that Omega-3 fats may be the heart's best friend. They reduce the risk of heart attack, sudden cardiac death, hardening of the arteries (Atherosclerosis), and stroke. Furthermore, Omega-3s improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce high blood pressure, make arteries more elastic, reduce plaque formation, and make the heart muscle stronger.

What are Omega-3s?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body needs to function properly. There are animal-based and plant-based Omega-3s. The animal-based Omega-3s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) can be found in seafood, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel or shellfish. The plant-based Omega-3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is acquired from sources such as walnuts, flaxseed, and canola and soybean oils.

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, have been shown to benefit the heart of healthy people and those at high risk for, or who already have cardiovascular disease.

Recommended Intake
The American Heart Association recommends that people without documented coronary heart disease (CHD) eat a variety of fish, preferably oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and trout), at least twice a week. Those with documented CHD are advised to consume about one gram of EPA and DHA per day. Consuming fish oil supplements should only be considered by people with heart disease or high levels of triglycerides who consult with their physicians.

Below is a reference table comparing a few common food sources and the amount of Omega-3s they contain.

Food SourceServing SizeAmount of Omega-3s
Flaxseeds2 tbs3.5 g
Walnuts¼ cup2 g
Salmon3 oz1.5 g
Sardines3.25 oz1.4 g
Halibut3 oz0.36 g

For more information on heart health, please visit

No comments:

Post a Comment