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By Karen Alexander, Oncology Wellness Specialist


Improve Your Heart Health during American Heart Month

Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States (1 in every 4 deaths annually). Each year, more than 1 million Americans have heart attacks, and about 500,000 people die from heart disease. In fact, according to the CDC, a heart attack occurs every 42 seconds and each minute someone will die from a heart disease-related health condition in America.

Most people who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous diagnosis of heart disease and no previous symptoms. That is why since 1963, the American Heart Association (AHA) has designated February as American Heart Month. Through this campaign, AHA encourages Americans to join the battle against heart disease and motivates lifestyle changes that reduce cardiovascular risk.

Heart disease prevention should start early in life. The sooner you know and manage your risk factors, the more heart-healthy a life you can have. Also, the more risk factors you have, the more possibility you have of developing heart disease. Risk factors can be classified in three categories: non-modifiable factors (such as age and heredity), contributor’s factors (such as stress) and modifiable factors (such as tobacco, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and sodium intake, physical inactivity, being overweight, diabetes and alcohol consumption.

At Ackerman Cancer Center we encourage our patients to start working on their modifiable risk factors today. Below are some ideas and strategies to help you get started.

Tobacco Use
Using tobacco increases your risk of cancers, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Below are three benefits of quitting smoking:

  • Your risk for a heart attack drops sharply just 1 year after you quit smoking.
  • After 2 to 5 years, your chance for stroke can fall to about the same as a nonsmoker's.
  • Within 5 years, your chance of developing mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancer is cut in half.

If you need help quitting, please visit these websites:

  • https://smokefree.gov/
  • http://tobaccofreeflorida.com/Contents-12/How-to-quit/

High Cholesterol
High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease and heart attack. Too much cholesterol in the bloodstream builds up in the walls of the arteries, hardening the arteries over time. The buildup causes arteries to narrow, slowing or blocking blood flow to the tissues. Your blood carries oxygen to the tissues. A slowdown in blood supply can cause tissues to suffer, but a full blockage can cause those tissues to die. The outcome of reduced blood and oxygen supply varies based on where it happens. When blood flow to the brain is restricted, you may have a stroke; when it happens to the heart, you may have a heart attack.

Here are some ways to reduce your intake of cholesterol and other unhealthy fats:

  • Limit animal fats such as butter, sour cream, whole milk, chicken skin, beef fat, etc.
  • Avoid “trans fats” (partially hydrogenated oils and mono and diglycerides).
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry.
  • Cook with vegetable oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil and avocado oil. Do not fry food.
  • Choose cooking methods low in fats such as baking, steaming, grilling, and broiling.  

High Blood Pressure and Sodium Intake
You might hear your doctor recommend that you reduce your sodium (salt) intake. However, most physicians in America forget to tell their patients how much salt is too much. According to the AHA, the average consumption of sodium (salt) per day must be no more than 2,300 mg. The ideal amount is no more than 1,500 mg for most adults. 

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of table salt:

  • 1/4 teaspoon = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon = 2,300 mg sodium

The AHA promotes the DASH eating plan (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is an eating pattern that is proven to reduce high blood pressure. If you want to learn more about the DASH diet, visit these links:

  • https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/dash_brief.pdf
  • https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/new_dash.pdf

Below are some ways you can reduce your sodium intake:

  • Use the Nutrition Facts label to compare the sodium in packaged foods and beverages. Be sure sodium and calories are in a 1:1 ratio (1 calorie: 1mg sodium).
  • Choose fresh or frozen fruit or vegetables instead canned fruit or vegetables.
  • Choose fresh or frozen poultry, seafood, and lean meats instead of prepared or ready-to-eat products.
  • Use herbs and spices when cooking at home in place of salt.

Physical Inactivity
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should get at least 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of moderately intense physical activity each week. You can easily spread this activity out over 30-minute increments, 5 days a week. If your health allows you, you should lift weights twice a week to preserve bone density. Be careful not to exceed your capacity – you don’t want to get hurt.

For more information about the benefits of exercising and how to boost your physical activity, click here to visit our blog.

Obesity and Being Overweight
Being overweight is multifactorial. It can be related to age, ethnicity, reduced mobility, poor food choices, food insecurity, lack of time to exercise, lack of time to cook healthy food, etc. It is so complex that we need to individualize the recommendations.

If you want some ideas that may help you improve your food choices or some easy and quick recipes, come to visit me at my desk. I will be glad to share this information with you.

The standard approach for managing diabetes is to use medications, follow a healthy and balanced diet and increase physical activity. As with obesity, the recommendations for diabetes must be individualized and supervision under an expert health care team is extremely important. For general information regarding diabetes, diabetes approved recipes, tips and more, visit http://www.diabetes.org/

Alcohol Use
Despite the often-touted benefits of alcohol for cardiovascular disease, more alcohol doesn’t mean more benefits. According to the AHA, alcohol consumption must be moderate (one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women). However, if you are trying to stop drinking or you don’t drink, do not start drinking. In these instances, you will get more benefit from exercising and improving your diet.

It should be noted that alcohol can increase your risk of obesity, stroke, high blood pressure, and accidents, as well as head and neck, esophageal, liver, colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancer. Please speak with your doctor if you need help to stop drinking.

Recipe of the Week: Chicken Cauliflower Fried Rice
1 medium head cauliflower, stem removed
3 teaspoons canola oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten 
3 cloves garlic, minced 
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated 
1 cup frozen mixed peas and carrots, thawed 
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, plus more for serving, optional
2 tablespoons sesame oil 
2 cooked chicken breasts, diced (I used a rotisserie chicken) 
Hot sauce, for serving, optional

Cut the cauliflower into chunks. Working in batches, pulse the cauliflower in a food processor until coarse in texture, like rice. This recipe uses about 4 cups of cauliflower rice. If you have any leftover, save it for another use.
Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the canola oil. Add the eggs and quickly scramble. Transfer the eggs to a plate and set aside. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons canola oil. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add the peas and carrots, scallions and cauliflower. Stir-fry until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. 
As the vegetables are cooking, whisk the soy sauce and sesame oil together in a small bowl. Stir the sauce and chicken into the cauliflower mixture. Cook an additional minute or 2. Stir the cooked eggs back into the mixture. Serve with hot sauce and additional soy sauce if desired.

*Recipe via The Food Network

All my Best!

Karen Ambrosio, Oncology Wellness Specialist

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