Lowering Your Risk for Heart Disease

By Charlyn Fargo

June 14, 2019 5 min read

My mother suffered from heart disease most of her life, and eventually the disease took her life. We went through stents, heart surgery, two pacemakers, replacement valves — the best that medical care could give her. Could a change in her diet have made a difference?

I read with interest new research from the American Heart Association that finds doing three things could help save 94 million lives worldwide from premature deaths caused by cardiovascular disease. Those three things include lowering high blood pressure, eliminating artificial trans fats from our diets and reducing sodium intake — all doable, and another reason to commit to eating healthier.

Lowered blood pressure and lowered sodium consumption can be accomplished together. Steps to lower your blood pressure include losing weight if you're overweight, increasing physical activity, reducing sodium intake and increasing potassium intake.

To cut your sodium, think beyond the saltshaker. Table salt only accounts for about 25% of the sodium in our diets. The rest comes from processed foods and foods we eat in restaurants (where we can't control the salt). Try purchasing no-salt-added canned foods (especially for combination foods like chili). You can also rinse canned foods to reduce their sodium by nearly 50%. Buy fresh rather than processed foods; things in a box are usually high in sodium. Watch out for canned soups and pasta sauces, as well as ketchup and barbecue sauces. Also reduce the amount of processed meats you eat on a weekly basis, such as bacon, sausage, pepperoni and lunchmeats. Other foods high in sodium include soy sauce, chips, pickles, olives and some popcorn.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (about the amount in a teaspoon of salt), but the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams per day.

Since 2006, food companies have been required to list the amount of trans fat in foods on labels. When food manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil (hydrogenation), the oil becomes harder and "trans." The process increases the shelf life of foods. Try to eat fewer foods with margarine, vegetable shortening, (think cookies and pies) as well as deep-fried chips, fast foods and commercially baked goods.

Q and A

Q: What are good snacks for someone who has diabetes?

A: Pair a protein with a carbohydrate with fiber. Examples include a whole-wheat bagel thin with peanut butter, peanut butter with apple slices or celery sticks, string cheese with whole-grain crackers or low-fat cottage cheese with fruit. Other healthy snacks include lower-sugar fat-free Greek yogurt or hummus with fresh vegetables.


Here's a way to begin incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet, even if you're a meat lover. Blend the two in these beef and black bean burgers, recipe adapted from Hy-Vee.


1 1/2 pounds ground beef (93% or leaner)

10 (2-ounce) whole-grain hamburger buns

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 cup minced onion

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 or 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, minced

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 ripe avocado, sliced

Optional toppings: Low-fat ranch dressing, yogurt or salsa

Cut two hamburger buns into 1/4-inch cubes. Combine cubed buns, beans and tomato paste in a large bowl; using a potato masher, mash to slightly chunky consistency. Add ground beef, onion, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, cumin, salt and pepper, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Lightly shape into eight 3/4-inch thick patties. Place patties on rack of broiler pan or grill and broil. Cook until thermometer reaches 160 F. Place burgers on bottoms of buns. Top burgers evenly with avocado slices. Top with dressing, sour cream, yogurt or salsa, if desired. Makes 8 burgers.

Per serving: 386 calories; 27 grams protein; 47 grams carbohydrate; 12 grams fat (3 grams saturated); 56 milligrams cholesterol; 7.7 grams fiber; 605 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: rud0070 at Pixabay

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