January 30, 2012

Healthy Habits for a Healthy Heart!

Jennie Guan, Dietetic Intern,
Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women in the United States. While there are many risk factors, what you eat and how physically active you are can pay big dividends when it comes to taking care of your heart. Eating more fruits and vegetables, lowering saturated and trans fat intake, decreasing sodium levels, and keeping a healthy weight can help you on your journey to taking good care of your heart.

Most fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them heart healthy. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure. A diet high in fiber can lower your risk of heart disease. Vegetables, fruits and whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full, which may help you manage your weight.

Make smart choices when it comes to fats. Choose heart healthy fats that are unsaturated in small amounts. Fats like olive and canola oils are good choices for your heart. Some of the best foods for lowering cholesterol include oatmeal, fatty fish like salmon and trout, walnuts (and other nuts), olive oil, and foods fortified with sterols or stanols. Spreads like Benecol and Promise Activ are examples of these products.

Unhealthy cholesterol levels increase your risk for heart disease, so keeping yours low is key to a healthier heart. Try to limit the saturated and trans fats, two fats that raise your blood cholesterol. Most animal foods are high in saturated fat, so choose lean meats and low fat dairy products. Reduce the amount of solid fats like butter, margarine, or shortening that you add to food when cooking. Read those labels when buying products to help you find the trans fat in a product. And pay close attention to the amount of fast foods you eat as they can be high in trans fats too.

Sodium can be another deal breaker. Consuming high amounts of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends no more than about a teaspoon of salt a day for an adult. Reducing the sodium in your food is a big part of a heart-healthy diet. Since salt is sodium chloride, try to limit the amount you use in the foods you prepare. Most of the sodium in our diet is hidden in processed foods like canned foods, processed meats, instant foods, and many frozen convenience foods, so pay attention to what you put in your shopping cart. Restaurant meals are usually high in sodium as well. If you plan to eat out, try to keep sodium low at other meals that day.

Don’t forget the physical activity. Physical activity is recommended to promote heart health, maintain weight or promote gradual weight loss. Thirty to 60 minutes of exercise is what we need on most days. Do what you enjoy to help you get active. It could be a brisk walk, playing with the children, gardening or dancing. If you’re having trouble exercising 30 to 60 minutes, break it up into small 10 to 15 minute blocks of time. Always be sure to check with your healthcare provider first.

The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet are good at promoting heart health. For further information about each diet, you can go to the websites.

The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet is recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The TLC Diet is a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet that will help to reduce your blood cholesterol level thereby decreasing your chance of developing heart disease.

The DASH diet is a lifelong approach to healthy eating that's designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension).

To decrease your risk of heart disease, your best and easiest way is to consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat free or low fat dairy foods as well as lean protein. Include some physical activity too!

Participate in National Wear Red Day—Everyone (men too) can support the fight against heart disease in women by wearing red on February 3, 2012. Click here to learn more about Wear Red Day!

The American Heart Association: Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations: Revision 2006

January 23, 2012

The New Kid on the Block

Lara Miller

I just started my dream job at the Brooker Creek Preserve and I am honored to be joining the Pinellas County Extension team as the new Natural Resource Agent! Pinellas County already feels like home and I could not be more grateful to work at the Preserve where I am constantly surrounded by its beauty.

Growing up in the small coastal town of Jupiter, FL I became fascinated by the environment that surrounded me. As my high school days approached, I was thrilled to discover I was accepted into the Jupiter Environmental Research and Field Studies Academy where my curiosity developed into a passion. After graduating from this four-year program, I attended the University of Florida where I continued my education about the natural world. Through a combined degree program I obtained a Bachelors degree in Natural Resource Conservation and a Masters degree in Forest Resources and Conservation with a focus on environmental education. Aside from academics, my hobbies revolve around sports and the outdoors; I make my fitness a priority and enjoy weekend camping adventures.

Brooker Creek Preserve is the largest natural area in the county, standing at an astounding 8,700 acres. The slightest elevation changes transform the land from dry pine flatwoods to flooded lands of cypress domes and swamps. Each ecosystem supports different types of wildlife from deer to otters and turkeys to water moccasins. The best part is there are trails that lead visitors through each of these ecosystems for an outdoor adventure this is as diverse as it is surprising. Furthermore, with the amazing support of our volunteers and the Friends of Brooker Creek, the Education Center and its state-of-the-art exhibits draws in thousands of visitors every year.

I like to think the best part about living is growing, and I know through my work with the volunteers, the county and the University of Florida, I will be able to go above and beyond in my role as a natural resource extension agent. I am eager to see how my skills and background can contribute to the Preserve and the educational programs which it offers.

Thank you and I look forward to meeting all of you when you come to visit Brooker Creek Preserve!