Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart: Ways to Keep a Healthy Heart

What are heart attacks?

Heart attacks or myocardial infarctions are caused due to a blockage within the heart’s arteries. The arteries take blood from within the heart and distribute it away from the heart either to the body or the lungs.  If the arteries are blocked, the blood circulation within the heart becomes disturbed. This means that the heart isn’t getting enough blood or oxygen flowing through it, which can lead to a heart attack.  Think of the blocked artery like a clogged pipe. If a pipe is clogged, then only a reduced amount of water can run through at a less efficient rate. Similarly, if an artery is blocked, blood has trouble flowing through. 

Why do Heart Attacks occur? 

A clogged artery is caused by the buildup of fat or cholesterol in the arteries. 

What is Cholesterol- a fatty like substance that is made in the liver and is taken in through foods. We measure two types of cholesterol LDL and HDL.  LDL- is the “bad” kind of cholesterol because it builds up plaque in your arteries. LDL is often consumed as saturated fats or trans fats through foods. Meanwhile, HDL- is the “better” kind of fat because high levels of it can prevent blockage. 

Other important risk factors include: 

-High blood pressure

– High cholesterol 

-Smoking 

-Family history/ Genetics 

What are the symptoms? 

There are symptoms that occur before a heart attack. Paying attention and monitoring how you’re feeling can help you catch the warning signs. 

  • Angina- chest pain around the heart
  • Dyspnea – shortness of breath 
  • Diaphoresis- sweating
  • Nausea- discomfort in the stomach making you feel sick 
  • Emesis- vomiting 

What can be done to prevent a heart attack?

  1. Stop Smoking 
  2. Maintain a heart healthy diet primarily by lowering your LDL intake
  3. Try to lower a high blood pressure
  4. Stay physically active 

What is a healthy Heart Diet? 

Maintaining a healthy heart diet can reduce your risk for heart attack, heart disease, and stroke. It can also lower your risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. 

A healthy heart requires a diverse diet of fibers, fruits, and veggies. Here are some healthy food groups to eat: 

  • Healthy Fats: Avoid saturated fats and trans fats for they are known to increase your LDL () cholesterol. These “bad” fats can be found in oily foods that are solid at room temperature like butter, full fat dairy products, and fatty meats. Trans fats are normally found in processed foods such as fried foods and baked goods. Try consuming healthy fats such as almonds, nuts, olive oil, flaxseeds, and avocado. These are considered healthier because they are unsaturated fats (which increase your HDL).  They are easier for your body to break down and don’t leave a fatty residue that could later cause a clog in arteries.  
  • Beware of Dairy: Dairy can contain a lot of saturated fats. So be sure to choose low fat or fat free dairy products in order to help keep your saturated fats in check. This can be done by simply changing your milk from 2% to skim. 
  • Whole Grains: Ever seen the label on that whole wheat non sugary cereal box that says “heart healthy”? Well, they’re talking about whole grains! Whole grains contain fiber.  There are two types of fibers soluble and insoluble. The difference between the two is that one can dissolve in water while the other can not. The soluble fiber can dissolve and create a gel like form that helps improve digestion, lower your blood cholesterol and sugar! The insoluble fiber is known for attracting water into your stool which makes it easier to have a bowel movement.  But don’t be fooled, not all whole grains are healthy. For example, healthy whole grains are not sugary cereal. Rather, it’s plain oats, oatmeal, barley, and brown rice. So grab a bowl of oatmeal and dig in to get those fibers!
  • Produce Produce Produce! All the produce! Eat a variety of fruits and veggies to maintain a healthy diet. They are low in calories and high in fiber. Fresh produce is best. But if you opt for canned or frozen fruits/veggies that’s okay too! Just make sure to check the labels for added salts or sugars that may have been used to preserve the produce. 
  • Meats. It is true that meat is a great source of protein. However, lots of american loved meats such as burgers, hotdogs, steak, or bacon all contain high levels of saturated fats. Try eating meats that have less of these saturated fats such as fish and shellfish. With any meat, make sure to pay attention to your portion control. Typically your plate should contain a balance of  ¼ meats to ½ veggies. It also matters how you cook the meat.  Baking, broiling, or roasting are healthier and use less oil than pan frying or deep frying. 

Other important factors: 

Eating healthy is one part of reducing your risk for artery clots, but it’s a healthy lifestyle that will prevent most from heart attacks. 

1 . Exercise: Staying active regularly can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It helps your metabolism and “builds” a healthy strong heart. 

2. Drinking water: What are the downsides of drinking water? I mean really.  I know drinking water is always listed as the “cure all” for everything, but it is an important part in everyone’s diet. Drinking water is important for staying  hydrated,  but primarily people are encouraged to drink water to deter against its sugar filled soda alternatives. Try not to grab the soda or energy drinks. They can contain a lot of unnecessary sugars.  Rather, focus on drinking water (or no sugar added drinks like black coffee/tea). 

3. Stop Smoking. You’ve heard that smoking damages your lungs, but it also puts a lot of stress on your heart.  But why? Nicotine creates an adrenaline rush which can raise your blood pressure and make your heart beat faster.  Smoking thickens your blood which makes it more likely to clot and cause blockage in an artery. Similarly, smoking can also worsen coronary artery disease because it damages the lining in your coronary arteries which makes it more difficult for blood to flow to your heart. Lastly, smoking can decrease the amount of oxygen that gets to your heart, which makes the heart have to work extra hard to get it’s needed oxygen levels to the body. Although it’s difficult to quit smoking, this is one of the main recommendations among doctors to maintain a healthy heart.

4. Portion sizes: It’s one thing to eat healthy, but now you need to know how much to eat. Normally it is suggested that your plate should consist of 3 oz of meat, 1 cup of produce, 1 teaspoon of saturated fats, 1-2 tablespoons of a condiment, and maybe 1-2 oz of nuts, pretzels, or cracker like foods. Here’s a helpful infographic for visualizing your correct portion sizes. 

Photo from https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/nutrition/handy-guide-to-serving-size 

If you have any questions about heart health, please call the clinic at (901) 306-5433 to schedule an appointment. As always, stay safe and healthy!

-Wellness and Stress Clinic Team

Resources

https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/nutrition/10-simple-rules-for-eating-heart-healthy

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/aha-diet-and-lifestyle-recommendations

https://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/your-heart/post-heart-attack/quitting-smoking

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