Posts Tagged ‘heart health’

My office is having a “Lite-Hearted Rememberance Lunch” for our coworker that passed away a few months ago of a heart attack. I’m so happy that they are doing this in honor of him, and I think it’s a great idea to have our celebration focused on heart health – I think he would have enjoyed it.

We’re having a professor speak to us, who is also a fellow of the American Heart Association, so I am very excited to hear what he has to say. I think this will be a good time for everyone in our offices to spend time together and celebrate his life. Although I never hung out with this coworker after hours, he was definitely the goof ball in the office  – you could always count on him for a laugh, he was always in a good mood, and he was so kind to everyone. I miss seeing him in the office, I miss his contagious laugh that you could hear down the hallway. It is definitely not the same in here without him.

We were given the option of bringing a heart-healthy dish to share, so I made a couscous salad.


  • whole wheat couscous
  • chickpeas
  • black olives
  • tomatoes
  • fresh parsley
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper
  • fat free feta

I am taking my camera, but I’m not sure what the mood will be like- I’m hoping I can at least document everything that happens at our celebration.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that heart health/heart disease is an issue that is very close to my heart and my family. I think sometimes that I am in the wrong profession after seeing and dealing with all the heart issues in my family in the past couple of years! I know so much more now than I did 3 years ago, and it really has changed my life for the better.

If you’d like to know more about heart health, here’s some links to the Heart Health series I did a few months ago, plus a link to the stories in my own family:

You Gotta Have Heart

What to Look For

Risk Factors

What To Eat 1

What To Eat 2


Know Your Numbers

My Family History
Heart attacks don’t only happen to overweight men in their 50’s.

It is now the number one killer of women in the US.

Nick’s dad looked perfectly healthy and fit from the outside when he had his heart attack and needed emergency open heart surgery.

My mom is the total opposite of all the “normal characteristics” of heart attack victims, and she now has 4 stents in her heart.

My grandfather passed away of a massive heart attack when he had no previous heart issues – totally out of nowhere.

You are the only one that can take care of your heart.

Cherish it, work it, feed it, stretch it, fill it, love it.

Don’t ever take it for granted.


Here’s a little fun stuff to cheer up this post:

See you for a fun family dinner!

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Avid cyclist Cathy was riding her bike on a beautiful spring morning when the heart monitor she wore while exercising started beeping like crazy. Her heart rate had jumped to 220 beats per minute. She thought her heart monitor was bad. Cathy’s husband and cycling partner Robert insisted on taking her to the minor emergency clinic. “He wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” said Cathy, 37. “I kept thinking, ‘how can I get out of this?’”

At the clinic, it became clear that the problem was more serious than Cathy had thought. “I hadn’t felt any major symptoms – maybe just a little shortness of breath, a little tightness in the chest. I was riding my bike, for goodness sake!” Cathy was taken to the hospital by ambulance, but she still wasn’t scared. “I thought they were being overly cautious and that I would be home in time to watch ‘Desperate Housewives.’”

But Cathy was in ventricular tachycardia (v-tach), a condition in which the heart’s pumping chambers beat too fast.

In the emergency room, she was given drugs to slow her heart rate. That’s when the pain started. “The first drug felt like someone had put a 100-pound weight on my chest,” Cathy said. “When the first dosage had no effect, they doubled it – to no avail. My heart kept beating at 220 beats per minute. Finally, they decided that they needed to shock me out of the bad rhythm.” Still, Cathy wasn’t afraid. “I had no idea how serious it was. I had been healthy all my life.” After Cathy was stabilized, doctors found she has an unexplained case of cardiomyopathy. This rare but serious disease causes the heart muscle to become inflamed and not work as well as it should – and it caused the v-tach. Cathy would need a dual defibrillator and pacemaker implanted in her chest. “I got a little scared and started to cry. When I realized my life was going to change, I had a little pity party.” Long ago, Cathy had already made changes for the better. She’d grown up in a Catholic Hispanic family, with four brothers and four sisters. “My oldest sister nicknamed me ‘baby hippo.’ I was pleasantly plump.” The family’s meals were delicious, Cathy said, but not the healthiest. The “ultimate” tomboy, Cathy climbed trees with her brothers, fished with her dad and played kickball and basketball with her friends. In college, she played intramural volleyball, basketball and softball. Her love of sports and physical activity continued as an adult. She also enjoyed a heart-healthy diet.Yet here she was, needing major surgery and a device to regulate her heartbeat for the rest of her life. “I ate right and exercised, and I didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol. But maybe if I hadn’t done those things, my body may not have been strong enough to withstand all that I had been through.”

She was in the hospital for 10 days. “I had never been so miserable in my life. I couldn’t keep anything down and I hurt something awful. I ended up dehydrated and they had to keep me at the hospital for an extra 24 hours.” The device implanted in her chest at first caused pain and made sleep difficult.

During her recovery, it became important to Cathy to connect with other women sharing similar life-changing experiences. She found the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Web site, where she was drawn to the women she read about. “It’s like having your own family. When you’re challenged by similar circumstances, you can come together and talk about it. I believe that our attitude is at the heart of our challenge.”

Little by little, Cathy has tried to resume her active physical life, but she has trouble keeping up on bike rides to favorite spots with her husband – through downtown Houston and their favorite park. “I believe my cardiovascular system is out of shape. When I try to increase my speed, my heart rate jumps up. My husband can clip along at about 18 to 22 mph, so moving at 13 to 14 mph isn’t much fun for either of us.”

Even though their bike rides have slowed down, their relationship has improved. Love and laughter have become a big part of Cathy’s life and marriage. “Now we call each other up to say ‘how are you doing? I love you.’ We have fun. We don’t take each other so seriously; we poke fun at our idiosyncrasies. Our relationship has gotten a lot stronger.”

Cathy – Houston, TX

Age: 39

Age at time of event: 37

For my family’s personal experiences with heart disease, go here.


The first ever BranAppetit! Giveaway!

Winner will receive a year subscription of their choice of the following magazines:

To enter:

– Leave a comment on THIS post

For a second entry:

– Post a link on your blog (if you have one) and email me to let me know you did so

– If you don’t have a blog, send me an email with “Magazine Contest” in the subject

The contest is open until Sunday, March 15th, at midnight. I’ll draw random number on Monday and announce the winner!


We’ll be traveling after work to Nick’s parents house for a weekend with his family and mine. I will be blogging as I can  🙂 I’m sure there will be lots of eating and shopping involved, as usual.

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Heart Health: Theresa



Theresa has a message for every woman who puts off seeing her doctor: Don’t do it.

“As women we say, ‘Oh, I have to make a doctor’s appointment, but this week I have soccer games to attend, so I’ll do it next week.’” But Theresa knew she should see her doctor when she felt tired, short of breath and had back and chest pains last year. She didn’t put it off.

The fatigue was really getting to her. “I wouldn’t carry the laundry up and down the steps, because I knew that it would wear me out.” She pledged to rest more. “I would get tired washing my hair. I thought, ’Well, I’m really out of shape – I can’t even wash my hair anymore.’ I’d put the girls to bed around eight o’clock, and I’d sit down to watch TV, and by nine o’clock I was asleep.”

Theresa had a stress test. “I had a feeling that it was my heart, but all the tests were saying it wasn’t. A lot of people told me that if I had been a man who had gone to the doctor with the same symptoms, I would’ve been sent straight to the Emergency Room.”

Two months later, Theresa had a massive heart attack at a family birthday party. She was 38. “I was throwing my plate away when a funny sensation came over me, like the blood was drained from me,” she said. “Both my arms felt heavy and numb, and I had an odd sensation of pressure in my jaws.” The pain got worse. “I felt like an elephant was standing on my chest. It was difficult for me to talk,” she said. “If I could have crawled out of my body, I would have.” At that point, Theresa didn’t doubt that it was her heart – but the paramedics did. They thought she could walk to the ambulance.When the EKG at the hospital showed she was having a massive heart attack, Theresa was airlifted to another hospital near Baltimore – and the doctor told John that he should bring their daughters to say goodbye. Theresa had four stents to open blockages in blood vessels that provide nutrition and oxygen to her heart, allowing blood to flow smoothly to her heart again, and spent five days at the hospital recovering.

“When I was lying in the hospital bed, I thought, ’Why did this happen to me?,’” Theresa said. “’I’m 38 years old.’”

She found out that her family history was partly to blame. Theresa’s brother had a heart attack at 47; her father died of one, and all of his siblings died of heart disease before age 60. “But I was a child when they died. And so many years had passed that I didn’t realize that I had a risk factor.”

In addition, “the only exercise I got was running after my kids, and I ate whatever I wanted.” At home, she had three great reasons to get in shape: a supportive husband and their daughters, Elizabeth and Grace. She called the girls into her bedroom and drew a picture of her heart to help explain what happened. She didn’t want them to be afraid. But she wanted them to understand. “They knew I had a heart attack. Their pediatrician said to tell them that the blockage in blood vessels nurturing her heart was fixed and reassure them that I would be OK.”

Her daughters also learned that their mom needs to exercise to stay healthy. Theresa and John both follow a heart-healthy diet now. “I eat completely differently than I used to. I look at each day as a gift.”

The community of Go Red For Women has also played a role in Theresa’s recovery. “It’s great because when you’re 38 years old and you have a heart attack, a lot of people don’t know what you’re going through – the emotions, the fear. It’s so nice to meet other women and know, ‘OK, I’ve survived a year, but these women have survived eight years, 10 years. They’re still alive and here to tell their story. So I feel really lucky to meet them.

“I want women to know that their family history is important, that they should know their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. Even though I have a family history of heart disease, I still didn’t think, as a woman, that it could happen to me. If had realized that I was at risk, I would hope that I would have lived differently.”

Theresa – Lutherville, MD

Age: 39

Age at time of event: 38


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Heart Health: Patricia



On a chilly winter morning nine years ago, Patricia caught her breath. She thought she had inhaled too much cold air. Two days later, at the gym, she felt a nagging, burning sensation in her chest. “It just seemed like I couldn’t do anything.”

That was unusual for Patricia, a busy employment manager who had never dealt with anything more serious than a sinus infection. It’s February in St. Louis – probably just the weather, she thought. Still, Patricia called her doctor, who suggested they meet in the ER. Tests revealed that her left coronary artery was 85 percent blocked. She had no family history of heart disease.

She had surgery a few days later. The next day, Patricia recalls, she felt fine but as she ate soup in her hospital bed, she became faint. The next thing she remembers is waking up two days later and finding out that she’d had a heart attack and then gone into cardiac arrest. “Medically, I was dead for one hour,” she said. “My doctor manually manipulated my heart to bring me back to life.”

The hospital staff called her a miracle patient. Patricia, who was 44, asked her doctor what made him continue. “He said I was too young to die, so he could not let me go. He just kept trying and trying.

After 13 days in the hospital, going home wasn’t easy, even with her family’s support. Just walking around the house for two minutes was a strain. Patricia, a self-described “cheerleader for life,” hadn’t exactly been a couch potato. Before her hospital stay, she played golf, worked out and taught aerobics. And she was driven. After the surgery, she should feel better. So when was she going to?

The answer was about four months later. “I wasn’t just trying to get better physically, but mentally too. I was afraid to go out without my husband, Henry Lee – I needed him near me,” Patricia said. Patricia explored her feelings of fear and “why me?” with a psychologist. “I would hold my pulse just because I wanted to know that my heart was beating.” She began recovering physically and mentally and eventually returned to work.

Patricia’s favorite cousin, T.C., urged her to share her story with the American Heart Association. “You gotta stop being so secretive about it. Women need to know that yes, they can have a heart attack and survive and go back to what they were doing.” Patricia learned about the community of Go Red For Women. Sharing her story has helped her recovery.

“The movement shows women who have had a heart event that they are not alone – they have sisters and friends who want to be there for them. We’ve gone through it. We’re passionate about it,” she said. Heart disease kills more women than the next five causes of death combined, but it often goes undiagnosed. “Since I became a survivor, I know my numbers and the importance of listening to my body.”

Patricia – St. Charles, MO

Age: 53

Age at time of event: 44


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Since my computer issues at work kept me from posting the last Heart Health post, I’ve decided to just stretch it out over this week to close out the Heart Health series.

Thanks to everyone who read, learned, and enjoyed this – I had so much fun putting the posts together, and I learned a lot, too.

This week’s lunchtime posts will all be survivor stories.

First up? Michelle.



Eleven years ago, Michelle was eating dinner with her family when she found out that her next meal would be at the hospital. She needed surgery and she needed it right away.

‘”Michelle, your heart is in terrible shape,” her doctor told her over the phone. “You need to be at the hospital tomorrow at 7 a.m. and be prepared to stay awhile.’”

Exhaustion had sent Michelle, then 32, to the doctor a few months before. She couldn’t get through the days. “’You’ve got three young children,” her doctor told her. “Everybody’s tired.”

Michelle’s sister Shari had died of heart disease at age 19. “Despite my family history, no one considered that I might have heart disease – not even me. Before Shari died, the philosophy was, ‘you’re young, you’re female and you’ll be OK.’”

A few months after she visited the doctor in 1997, Michelle passed out sitting in church. “My husband got me a donut and I thought I was fine.” But Michelle returned to a different doctor for tests at a friend’s urging, and the dinnertime call delivered the blow. She had cardiomyopathy, a serious disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed and doesn’t work as well as it should. It can also cause arrhythmias, abnormal heartbeats that make the heart pump less effectively. Most arrhythmias aren’t life-threatening, but some are extremely dangerous and require treatment and management. Michelle’s would.

“My husband and I sat in the kitchen and cried,” she said. Then Michelle had to call her parents. “They had already lost a daughter. To tell them that I was going in the hospital the next day was very, very hard to do.” Michelle was in the hospital for 10 days. Doctors implanted her with an internal cardiac defibrillator (ICD), would deliever an electrical shock if her heart went into a dangerous rhythm.

A few days after she got out of the hospital, Michelle was trying to get back to her everyday life. But at a birthday party with her five-year-old she slipped away to the bathroom and sat on the floor and cried. All she could think about were the celebrations she’d miss. “I thought I had less than five years to live. My thoughts were that I wanted to raise my children, I wanted to grow old with my husband and I wanted to be there for my parents. ”

Today, 11 years later, Michelle has watched her children blow out the candles on every birthday cake. The ICD implant was only the start of the changes in her life. Before her diagnosis, Michelle would eat the crusts off her kids’ peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and stay up late to do an extra load of laundry instead of exercising. Getting healthier also took a commitment to take care of herself.

“I thought that the best way to take care of my kids was to always put them first. I

liked to eat healthy foods and I liked to exercise, but I didn’t make those things a priority,” Michelle said. “I love my children with my whole heart, but I’ve found that the way to put them first is to take care of myself.”Most days she exercises, including walking, doing pilates and weight lifting. “I don’t work exercise around my life,” she said. “I work my life around my exercise.” Michelle also needs time to rest. “I can’t go to Six Flags all day, but I’m able to enjoy life – and I’m thankful for every single day.”

With the “sisterhood” of the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement, Michelle said she has become part of a supportive network that has taught her to love her heart and take aggressive steps to protect it. “When I was diagnosed, I thought I was the only young woman with heart disease. Standing with others who are newly diagnosed or who have risk factors helps women realize that they are not alone. There’s power in numbers. There’s power in friendship.”

Michelle’s advice: “Don’t be afraid to go to the doctor. Listen to your body. Don’t ignore your symptoms. You are the expert on you. If you have fears or questions or you’re not feeling well, get it checked out.”

Michelle – Chesterfield, MO

Age: 43

Age at time of event: 32

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Today is the last “normal” Heart Health Installment, and it is FULL of information 🙂 Don’t worry – there’s one more tomorrow!

One thing everyone needs to focus on is Knowing Your Numbers.

These numbers include cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and your weight.

Keeping track of these numbers is a good thing to do, especially if heart disease does run in your family. I just had my first ever “physical” in January so I could get all my numbers now. That way, if things change, I know where they started and we can figure out what is going on.

First, Cholesterol. According to the AHA,

It may surprise you to know that cholesterol itself isn’t bad. In fact, cholesterol is just one of the many substances created and used by our bodies to keep us healthy. Some of the cholesterol we need is produced naturally (and can be affected by your family health history), while some of it comes from the food we eat.

There are two types of cholesterol: “good” and “bad.” It’s important to understand the difference, and to know the levels of “good” and “bad” cholesterol in your blood. Too much of one type — or not enough of another — can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

Cholesterol comes from two sources: your body and food. Your liver and other cells in your body make about 75 percent of blood cholesterol. The other 25 percent comes from the foods you eat.

LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol. When too much of it circulates in the blood, it can clog arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.

LDL cholesterol is produced naturally by the body, but many people inherit genes from their mother, father or even grandparents that cause them to make too much. Eating saturated fat, trans fats and dietary cholesterol also increases how much you have. If high blood cholesterol runs in your family, lifestyle modifications may not be enough to help lower your LDL blood cholesterol. Everyone is different, so work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that’s best for you.

Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood. It has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as “bad” cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as “good” cholesterol. These two types of lipids, along with triglycerides and Lp(a) cholesterol, make up your total cholesterol count, which can be determined through a blood test.

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
When too much LDL (bad) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, heart attack or stroke can result.

HDL (good) Cholesterol
About one-fourth to one-third of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol, because high levels of HDL seem to protect against heart attack. Low levels of HDL (less than 40 mg/dL) also increase the risk of heart disease. Medical experts think that HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body. Some experts believe that HDL removes excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, slowing its buildup.

How do you know if your cholesterol levels are optimal?

  • You want your TOTAL cholesterol (LDL + HDL) to be less than 200 mg/dL
  • You want your LDL to be less than 100 mg/dL (optimal) or at least between 100 -129 mg/dL
  • You want your HDL to be higher than 60 mg/dL

Next, Blood Pressure. The AHA is a wealth of information!  🙂

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries.

Blood pressure results from two forces. One is created by the heart as it pumps blood into the arteries and through the circulatory system. The other is the force of the arteries as they resist the blood flow.

What do blood pressure numbers indicate?

  • The higher (systolic) number represents the pressure while the heart contracts to pump blood to the body.
  • The lower (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats.

The systolic pressure is always stated first. For example: 118/76 (118 over 76); systolic = 118, diastolic = 76.Blood pressure below 120 over 80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) is considered optimal for adults. A systolic pressure of 120 to 139 mmHg or a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89 mmHg is considered “prehypertension” and needs to be watched carefully. A blood pressure reading of 140 over 90 or higher is considered elevated (high).

How can I tell if I have high blood pressure?

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. In fact, many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. That’s why it’s called the “silent killer.” Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. It doesn’t refer to being tense, nervous or hyperactive. You can be a calm, relaxed person and still have high blood pressure.

A single elevated blood pressure reading doesn’t mean you have high blood pressure, but it’s a sign that further observation is required. Ask your doctor how often to check it or have it checked. Certain diseases, such as kidney disease, can cause high blood pressure. In 90 to 95 percent of cases, the cause of high blood pressure is unknown.

The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked. Your doctor or other qualified health professional should check your blood pressure at least once every two years, or more often if necessary.

Optimal blood pressure with respect to cardiovascular risk is less than 120/80 mm Hg. However, unusually low readings should be evaluated to rule out medical causes.

Third, Triglycerides. The AHA defines triglycerides as

a form of fat made in the body. Elevated triglycerides can be due to overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a diet very high in carbohydrates (60 percent of total calories or more). People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including a high LDL (bad) level and a low HDL (good) level. Many people with heart disease and/or diabetes also have high triglyceride levels.

Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. They’re also present in blood plasma and, in association with cholesterol, form the plasma lipids.

Triglycerides in plasma are derived from fats eaten in foods or made in the body from other energy sources like carbohydrates. Calories ingested in a meal and not used immediately by tissues are converted to triglycerides and transported to fat cells to be stored. Hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat tissue so they meet the body’s needs for energy between meals.

How is an excess of triglycerides harmful?

Excess triglycerides in plasma is called hypertriglyceridemia. It’s linked to the occurrence of coronary artery disease in some people. Elevated triglycerides may be a consequence of other disease, such as untreated diabetes mellitus. Like cholesterol, increases in triglyceride levels can be detected by plasma measurements. These measurements should be made after an overnight food and alcohol fast.

A normal triglyceride level is less than 150 mg/dL. Borderline would be between 150 -199.

And lastly, weight. I know.

The best thing you can do to help prevent heart disease (as well as many other health issues) is to maintain a healthy weight – honestly! Yo-yo-ing up and down is not good on our bodies (or our mental and emotional health).We know that having excess fat, especially around the stomach/waist area, gives you a  higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Find ways to enjoy your life, your food, your activity and maintain a pretty consistent weight. Yes, that will include weighing yourself every now and then, but it doesn’t have to be every day. The most important thing is to make sure you are being active on a regular basis and eating those healthy superfoods that make your heart healthier and your body work the way it’s supposed to work.

I think if you’re doing those 2 things, your weight will eventually level out in a range that is easy for you to maintain, which is what you want. Find your happy weight and keep up all your good work to stay there  🙂

Not really numbers, but a few other things to quickly touch on that are also important in heart health:

  • Don’t smoke – duh  🙂  It’s not good for any part of you – your heart, lungs, skin, nails, teeth, anything! If you do, find a way to quit. You’ll feel so much better and cut your risk of heart disease, as well as other health issues. PLUS, you’ll save money! Another bonus in this economy.
  • Manage your stress in healthy ways. This can be a hard one sometimes! Find ways to get your frustrations out – exercising, painting, singing, cooking, taking a bath, reading – anything that is a healthy outlet for your stress. The less stress in your body, the less stress on your heart. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, and feel better in your everyday life if you have good ways of expressing your stress.

I’m really looking forward to my last heart health post tomorrow! This has been so much fun for me, and I have learned a lot! Thank you for all your interest, comments, and questions – I really appreciate all of them, and look forward to doing other health series in the future!


Fun Blog Stuff:

– Check out Megan’s cool Baking Tag Giveaway!

– Hurry up and enter Angela’s 30 Day Shred giveaway!

BSI entries due by Sunday – I better get cookin’  🙂

Do you know your numbers?

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First, I found a few places that have some amazing recipe indexes geared specifically towards Heart Health! I can’t wait to try some of these!

Mayo Clinic’s Heart Health Recipe Index

NHLBI Heart Health Pamphlet with lots of info/recipes

After posting the majority of the heart healthy foods yesterday, I though I would just go over some cooking / eating tips today:

  • Watch your serving sizes. While eating the right foods are important, eating too much of anything is still not a great idea – for your body or your heart.
  • Get to reading labels if you don’t already! There are lots of products now marked with an AHA logo, which helps.ahalogo
  • While reading labels, make sure to look at the sodium, cholesterol, and fat – both the amounts and the types of fat. Speaking of which, I thought this was super cute. Meet Mon and Poly from the AHA! There’s a webisode from them, menus, all kinds of stuff! There are also the Bad Fat Brothers, as well  🙂monandpoly
  • The fresher – the better. Foods that aren’t processed much before we cook / eat them typically don’t have “ingredient lists”. Food for thought?
  • Make the best choice available. I was reading “Fit From Within” by Victoria Moran on the way to work this morning and happened to be on this chapter:

She wrote the following:

This is the wisest dietary advice I know: Make the best possible choices from those available. When you have a say in the matter, put yourself in situations where there is an abundance of good choices – markets with colorful produce and fresh, high-quality staples and restaurants where choice foods are used to create lovely dishes. But, life being what it is, many times you won’t be in such lofty environs. You’ll have to make the best possible choice from a selection that might not be stellar….Whether you’re at a truck stop in rural Iowa, an exquisite French restaurant, a food court at Disney World, or some prefabricated purveyor of fast food on the interstate, you can’t go wrong by choosing the best from what is available. This starts a habit pattern that will pay dividends for you all your life…”Best” has numerous components: nutrition, taste, price, aesthetics. It evolves; what you learn today could make yesterday’s best obsolete. It is also an individual call.

So, in honor of choosing my best, I will go ahead and let you know what my lunch will be  🙂 We’re going out with some coworkers, so no pictures, sadly.

We’re going to this awesome burger joint/bar downtown. I am getting a buffalo burger (lean and good!) on a wheat bun (better than white) and a side salad instead of fries or tots.

The best choice ever? Probably not. But it’s the best choice available today.

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One risk factor that we have complete control over is what we eat.

Eating a heart healthy diet is something that can make a big difference not only in your heart health, but also for your daily health and energy levels.

A Heart Healthy Diet includes foods that are low in salt, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

I found a pretty extensive list of foods included in a Heart Healthy Diet from the American Heart Association:

Fruits Fresh, canned or frozen
Vegetables Fresh or frozen (avoid sauce or flavor pouches, which add salt and fat)
Canned is OK if unsalted or rinsed
Meats, poultry, fish Fresh or frozen fish (not breaded)
Canned tuna and salmon (unsalted or rinsed)
Chicken or turkey, both with the skin removed
Lean cuts of beef, veal, pork or lamb (trim away all fat)
Meat substitutes Dried beans, peas, lentils (not canned)
Tofu (soybean curd)
Nuts or seeds (unsalted, dry-roasted), such as sunflower seeds, peanuts, almonds and walnuts (Eat nuts in small amounts because they’re high in fat and calories.)
Unsalted peanut butter
Drinks Fruit juices, fresh, frozen or canned
Canned low-sodium or no-salt-added tomato and vegetable juice
Breakfast drink, powder or liquid (limit to 1 cup/day)
Lemonade (frozen concentrate or fresh)
Tea and coffee in moderation
Soy protein powder, soy milk
Dairy choices Liquid or dry milk (1 percent, ½ percent, fat-free or nonfat)
Cottage cheese, dry curd (low sodium)
Low-fat or part-skim cheeses, such as ricotta and mozzarella
(Choose 2–3 servings of these low-fat dairy products per day.)
Fats, oils Unsaturated vegetable oils like canola, olive, corn, cottonseed, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower
Low-sodium, low-fat salad dressing and mayonnaise
Unsalted margarine with liquid vegetable oil as first ingredient
(Use any of these in small amounts.)
Breads, cereals, grains, starches Pasta
Rice (enriched white or brown)
Starchy vegetables, such as corn, potatoes, green peas, etc. (not canned unless salt-free)
Loaf bread and yeast rolls
Homemade breads (with regular flour, not self-rising)
Melba toast
Matzo crackers
Pita bread
Taco shell, corn tortilla
Cooked cereals, such as corn grits, farina (regular), oatmeal, oat bran, cream of rice, cream of wheat (avoid instant cereals)
Puffed rice or wheat, shredded wheat (or any cereal with 100–150 mg of sodium (limit to 1 cup/day)
Wheat germ (in small amounts)
Unsalted, no-fat popcorn
Cooking ingredients, seasonings Corn starch, tapioca
Cornmeal (not self-rising because of high salt content)
Fresh or dried herbs, salt-free herb seasonings
Flour — regular white or whole-wheat (not self-rising)
Fresh fruits and vegetables, such as lemons, limes, onions, celery, etc.
Fresh garlic or ginger
Louisiana-type hot sauce (limit to 1 teaspoon/day)
Low-sodium baking powder
Onion or garlic powder (avoid garlic salt)
Tomato paste, unsalted tomatoes, unsalted tomato sauce
Water chestnuts
Butter substitute (limit to 1/2 teaspoon/day)
Sweets Carob powder, cocoa powder
Flavored gelatins
Frozen juice bars, fruit ice, sorbet, sherbet
Sugar, honey, molasses, syrup (cane or maple)
Jelly, jam, preserves, apple butter
Graham and animal crackers, fig bars, ginger snaps

Other Heart Healthy Diet Tips from the American Heart Association:

  • Keep total intake of fat between 25-35 percent, saturated fat less than 7 percent, and your intake of trans fats less than 1 percent per day.
  • Limit your intake of cholesterol from food to less than 300 mg per day.
  • Eat 25-30 grams of dietary fiber every day from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
  • Keep sodium to 2,300 mg or less

Just Remember!

A heart healthy diet is not just about what you can’t or shouldn’t eat! Learning to make smart choices is a life long process and one that produces life long benefits. As long as you’re focusing on making the best choices whenever you can, a heart healthy diet will happen easily. Not every choice will end up with you eating a salad, but choosing whole and nutritious foods as much as possible will ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need.

Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is the best way to make sure you’re eating the Heart Healthy way.

Next up? Heart Healthy Recipes!

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Heart Health: Risk Factors

While looking for the most common risk factors of heart disease, I found a few sites that had good lists of risk factors. I wanted to have a complete list, so I’ve listed the ones I found and split them up into 2 categories.

Basically, there are risk factors that we have no (or little) control over and then there are those that we do have control over.

The ones you can control are where you want to put your focus.

Risk Factors We Cannot Control/Have Trouble Controlling –

  • Age: As women grow older, their risk of heart disease and stroke begins to rise and keeps rising with age.
  • Sex: Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women, and they have attacks earlier in life. Each year about 60,000 more women than men have strokes, and about 60 percent of total stroke deaths occur in women. Heart disease is now the #1 killer of women in the United States.
  • Mental stress/depression: Research hasn’t yet defined the role stress plays in the development of heart disease. People respond differently to situations they find stressful. Unhealthy responses to stress may lead to other risk behaviors like smoking and overeating. Depression is twice as common in women as in men, and it increases the risk of heart disease by two to three times compared with those who aren’t depressed. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you’re having symptoms of depression, such as loss of interest in your daily activities, feeling hopeless or unexplained changes in your weight. While depression can be treated, there are many outside influences that contribute to depression that are out of our control.
  • Heredity: Both women and men are more likely to develop heart disease or stroke if their close blood relatives have had them. Race is also a factor. Black women have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke than white women. Compared with whites, African-American men and women are more likely to die of stroke.
  • Previous heart attack or stroke: Women who’ve had a heart attack are at higher risk of having a second heart attack; 43 percent of women ages 40 and older who survive a first heart attack will have another heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease within five years, and 22 percent who survive a first stroke will have another within five years. A transient ischemic attack (TIA or “mini-stroke”) also is a risk factor and predictor of stroke.
  • Diabetes: Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates that are two to four times those of adults without diabetes. People with diabetes often have high blood pressure and high cholesterol and are overweight, increasing their risk even more. *Obviously, the type of diabetes is key to this one.

Risk Factors We Can Control –

  • Diet: Eat a diet that’s low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt. Eat more nutrient-rich foods and less nutrient-poor foods – this means lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats.
  • Smoking: Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular heart disease among women. Women who smoke have an increased risk for ischemic stroke and subarachnoid hemorrhage. Constant exposure to others’ tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke) at work or at home also increases the risk, even for nonsmokers. Women smokers who use birth control pills have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke than nonsmokers who use them.
  • High cholesterol: High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and also increases the risk of stroke. Studies show that women’s cholesterol is higher than men’s from age 55 on. High levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) raise the risk of heart disease and heart attack. High levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) lower the risk of heart disease. Research has shown that low levels of HDL cholesterol seem to be a stronger risk factor for women than for men.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and the most important risk factor for stroke. Women have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure if they are obese, have a family history of high blood pressure, are pregnant, take certain types of birth control pills or have reached menopause. African-American women have higher average blood pressure levels compared to Caucasian women.
  • High triglycerides: Triglyceride is a common type of fat in the body. A high triglyceride level often goes with higher levels of total cholesterol and LDL, lower levels of HDL and increased risk of diabetes. But scientists don’t agree that it’s a risk factor for heart disease by itself. Research suggests that having high triglycerides may increase the risk for women more than for men.
  • Activity: Various studies have shown that lack of physical activity is a risk factor for heart disease and indirectly increases the risk of stroke. Overall, they found that heart disease is almost twice as likely to develop in inactive people than in those who are more active. When you’re inactive and eat too much, you can gain excess weight. In many people overweight can lead to high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes and increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends accumulating at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week.
  • Weight / Metabolic Syndrome: If you have too much fat — especially if a lot of it is located in your waist area — you’re at higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.
  • Excessive alcohol intake: The risk of heart disease in people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (an average of one drink for women per day) is lower than in nondrinkers. However, it’s not recommended that nondrinkers start using alcohol or increase the amount they drink. Excessive drinking and binge drinking can contribute to obesity, high triglycerides, cancer and other diseases, raise blood pressure, cause heart failure and lead to stroke.

I won’t be going into each one in detail over the next few installments, but I will be going over most of the ones that we are able to control.

I know I can’t do anything to change my family history of heart disease, but I can do everything else in my power to have a healthy heart.

Interested in learning more? Check out the Go Red Heart CheckUp! You need to know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers to take this – if you don’t know them now, get them soon! It’s important to know your numbers and keep track of them even if you don’t have a family history of heart disease.

Get ready for a Heart Healthy breakfast tomorrow – I am super excited about it  🙂

Oh, and a shout out to my family, if they’re reading!  I love you  🙂  Hi to Melissa in NY?!?  How did I not get invited?  🙂

See ya for dinner!

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Before I get into the sections on how to prevent heart disease, I wanted to go over the more common symptoms of heart disease/heart attacks.

This is one area that is critical – many times, women don’t even know they’re having a heart attack because it doesn’t fall into the “symptoms” that are the most common (i.e., pain in chest, shooting pain in arm, etc).

From Women’s Health,

What are the signs of a heart attack?

For both women and men, the most common sign of a heart attack is:

  • Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest. The pain or discomfort can be mild or strong. It can last more than a few minutes, or it can go away and come back.

Other common signs of a heart attack include:

  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath (feeling like you can’t get enough air). The shortness of breath often occurs before or along with the chest pain or discomfort.
  • Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) or vomiting
  • Feeling faint or woozy
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

Women are more likely than men to have these other common signs of a heart attack, particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and pain in the back, neck, or jaw. Women are also more likely to have less common signs of a heart attack, including:

  • Heartburn
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Coughing
  • Heart flutters

Sometimes the signs of a heart attack happen suddenly, but they can also develop slowly, over hours, days, and even weeks before a heart attack occurs.

The more heart attack signs that you have, the more likely it is that you are having a heart attack. Also, if you’ve already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same for another one. Even if you’re not sure you’re having a heart attack, you should still have it checked out.


Being aware of all the possible symptoms is extremely important – if you notice any of these things, it’s always better to get checked out just in case.

Here is another list of possible symptoms from the FDA:

What are the signs of heart disease in women?

The most important sign is feeling really tired–even if after enough sleep. Other signs of heart disease in women are:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling sick to the stomach
  • Feeling scared or nervous
  • New or worse headaches
  • An ache in the chest
  • Feeling “heavy” or “tight” in the chest
  • A burning feeling in the chest
  • Pain in the back, between the shoulders
  • Pain or tightness in the chest that spreads to the jaw, neck, shoulders, ear, or the inside of the arms
  • Pain in the belly, above the belly button

The Mayo Clinic reports that

…signs and symptoms are more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. This may be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries, but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart — a condition called small vessel heart disease.

Many women tend to show up in emergency rooms after much heart damage has already occurred because their symptoms are not those typically associated with a heart attack.

If you notice any of these symptoms, go to a doctor – Better to be safe than sorry.

Do you know anyone that has had a heart attack? Did they say what symptoms they had?

My mom said hers started at first feeling like indigestion, then turned into the shooting/stabbing pain in her shoulder.

My coworker that just passed away last week called in sick for bad indigestion before his heart attack happened.

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