Heart healthy diet tips: Steer clear of salt and processed foods

Heart Disease

Eating a lot of salt can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing the salt in your food is a big part of a heart-healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends no more than about a teaspoon of salt a day for an adult. That may sound alarmingly small, but there are actually many painless—even delicious—ways to reduce your sodium intake.

  • Reduce canned or processed foods. Much of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed foods like soups or frozen dinners—even poultry or other meats often have salt added during processing. Eating fresh foods, looking for unsalted meats, and making your own soups or stews can dramatically reduce your sodium intake.
  • Cook at home, using spices for flavor. Cooking for yourself enables you to have more control over your salt intake. Make use of the many delicious alternatives to salt. Try fresh herbs like basil, thyme, or chives. In the dried spices aisle, you can find alternatives such as allspice, bay leaves, or cumin to flavor your meal without sodium.
  • Substitute reduced sodium versions, or salt substitutes. Choose your condiments and packaged foods carefully, looking for foods labeled sodium free, low sodium, or unsalted. Better yet, use fresh ingredients and cook without salt.

The DASH diet for lowering blood pressure

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet, is a specially designed eating plan to help you lower your blood pressure, which is a major cause of hypertension and stroke. To learn more, download the booklet from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found in the Resources and References section below.

Clinical Trials

Heart Disease

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) is strongly committed to supporting research aimed at preventing and treating heart, lung, and blood diseases and conditions and sleep disorders.

NHLBI-supported research has led to many advances in medical knowledge and care. For example, this research has uncovered some of the causes of heart diseases and conditions, as well as ways to prevent or treat them.

Many more questions remain about heart diseases and conditions, including heart attacks. The NHLBI continues to support research aimed at learning more about heart attacks. For example, NHLBI-supported research includes studies that explore:

  • How new therapies can help treat heart attacks and improve quality of life for people who have had heart attacks
  • The benefits of using certain tests, such as cardiac MRI, to evaluate people who have had heart attacks
  • The factors that may play a role in causing heart attacks in women younger than 55 years of age

Much of this research depends on the willingness of volunteers to take part inclinical trials. Clinical trials test new ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat various diseases and conditions.

For example, new treatments for a disease or condition (such as medicines, medical devices, surgeries, or procedures) are tested in volunteers who have the illness. Testing shows whether a treatment is safe and effective in humans before it is made available for widespread use.

By taking part in a clinical trial, you can gain access to new treatments before they’re widely available. You also will have the support of a team of health care providers, who will likely monitor your health closely. Even if you don’t directly benefit from the results of a clinical trial, the information gathered can help others and add to scientific knowledge.

If you volunteer for a clinical trial, the research will be explained to you in detail. You’ll learn about treatments and tests you may receive, and the benefits and risks they may pose. You’ll also be given a chance to ask questions about the research. This process is called informed consent.

If you agree to take part in the trial, you’ll be asked to sign an informed consent form. This form is not a contract. You have the right to withdraw from a study at any time, for any reason. Also, you have the right to learn about new risks or findings that emerge during the trial.

For more information about clinical trials related to heart attacks, talk with your doctor. You also can visit the following Web sites to learn more about clinical research and to search for clinical trials:

Heart Disease Risk Factors – You Control Your Destiny

Heart Disease

Philosophers debate the existence of free will. Do human beings control their destinies, or are we the playthings of chance? A new study suggests that when it comes to heart disease, choice is no illusion. We really do control our chances of having heart disease and stroke.

The largest-ever analysis of lifetime risks for cardiovascular disease was recently concluded after decades of research supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The study found that most known risk factors for cardiovascular disease can be controlled with lifestyle efforts and medications. These include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, excess body weight and physical inactivity. It concluded that middle-aged people with one or more of these risk factors are substantially more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people with optimal risk profiles.

The study, “Lifetime risks of cardiovascular disease”, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It covered 50 years of data from 257,000 people across sexes, races and ages. It determined that when it came to cardiovascular risk, we are all in the same boat: the more risk factors we have, the more likely we are to have a heart attack or stroke. At all ages studied, the people with the lowest level of risk factors lived longer and had the lowest risk for cardiovascular disease.

The good thing is that these risk factors are all under our control. Blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, overweight and sedentary lifestyle can be modified. Beyond that, the study indicates that if at any point in your life you choose to modify these risk factors, you lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

“This study reaffirms that it is never too early (or too late) to adopt a global preventive effort to reduce heart attack and stoke risk,” says Dr. Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, head of Preventive Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic.

Two significant risk factors you can’t control are your genetic profile and family history of heart disease. But you can lessen their effect by modifying the risk factors you can control.

So there’s good reason to quit smoking, eat a better diet and monitor your cholesterol and blood pressure. And when you are working out, taking a walk or climbing the stairs and a philosopher asks you what you’re doing, tell him or her that you’re exercising your free will.