By Dr. Michael Miller
Get answers to your heart disease prevention questions.
Dr. Miller is Director, Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
As we approach the final weeks of the year with family gatherings, office parties and New Year's celebrations, we can still enjoy ourselves while practicing a healthy lifestyle. Listed below are 10 tips to maintain heart health during this holiday season.
1. Hors d'oeuvres anyone? Among the most heart healthy starters are raw vegetables, particularly broccoli and cauliflower because of their high fiber content. Among the most heart healthy dips are hummus, which contains good monounsaturated fats.
2. Carbs beget carbs. Eating simple carbohydrates doesn't make us feel as full as eating fat, so if you are overzealous in avoiding fats you may overindulge in total calories. When snacking, stick with carbs that contain vitamins and fiber (e.g., apples) rather than those without nutritional value (e.g., pretzels). Consider healthy fat sources including avocados, walnuts and almonds.
3. Choose fish over red meat. Include fish in your year-end celebration menus. Cold-water fish contain protective omega- 3s, which have been shown to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death. Among your best choices are wild salmon, sardines and herring (without the cream sauce). Whatever meat you choose, have the gravy or sauce served on the side and limit table salt.
4. Color is everything. The more colorful the vegetable, the more heart-protective antioxidants contained within. Steaming is better than using the microwave for preserving nutrients. However, over-steaming or boiling will remove many of these heart healthy elements.
5. Hold the bagels. The average bagel will cost you more than 200 calories, even before the dousing of an additional 50-100 calories of butter or cream cheese. If you like lox, keep in mind that about 75% of the protective omega-3 fats in salmon are lost when converted into lox by the smoking process.
6. I'll drink to that. Red wine and dark beer contain more protective antioxidants or flavonoids than other alcoholic beverages. You can get maximum heart protection with up to 1 ounce of alcohol daily, the equivalent of two, 4 ounce glasses of wine, a 12 ounce bottle of beer, or 2 shots of spirits.
7. Don't come to the party starving. You'll overindulge. Eating one meal a day slows down the rate at which we burn calories. That is especially important to keep in mind as we age, because our metabolic requirements are reduced by an average of 5 calories daily. Therefore, eat frequently throughout the day but in small to moderate quantities.
8. You can have your chocolate and eat it too! That is, if it's dark. Pure dark chocolate contains a very high amount of catechins (a heart healthy antioxidant). Enjoy it with black grapes and wash it down with a beverage containing natural cocoa powder or tea, additional excellent sources of these heart healthy compounds.
9. Get in your exercise. Try to work off those extra holiday-season calories. While aerobic activity has been emphasized for maintaining cardiovascular health, recent studies show that walking is also quite effective. One fun way to keep track of your daily activity is to purchase a pedometer. There are about 2,000 steps per mile. Take 6,000-10,000 steps daily to maintain heart health.
10. Have a hearty laugh. Very few things in life are better than a good laugh and it turns out that laughing heartily is good for the heart. One recent study even demonstrated that laughing during mealtime reduces the surge in blood sugar levels. May you enjoy the lighter side of life with family and friends this holiday season.
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