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Celebrating American Heart Month

Celebrating American Heart Month, because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Every February we raise awareness about the leading cause of death in the United States, heart disease. But what is heart disease? The term heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, the most common is coronary artery disease (CAD) which is the leading cause of heart attacks. Risk factors for this disease include:

  • Other chronic diseases like diabetes

  • Smoking

  • Excessive alcohol use

  • Limited nutrient-dense foods in one’s diet

  • Limited movement throughout the day

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)/ high cholesterol

Why are dietitians bringing this up? Isn’t heart disease controlled by my primary care doctor? Can’t I just take medicine?

Well, yes, your PCP can help you treat heart disease through the use of medications to help lower your blood cholesterol and lower your blood pressure. But before going down that road, you can actually prevent heart disease and greatly reduce your risk of a heart attack through lifestyle changes. You don’t get to see your PCP every week or heck, even every 6 months, so their help is limited when it comes to making lifestyle changes.

That’s where dietitians come in!

Registered Dietitians (RD) are trained in helping clients and patients navigate making long lasting lifestyle changes, you know, the ones that actually stick. If you have a history of heart disease in your family, it might be time to meet with an RD to discuss ways to shift your habits to those that are more health promoting.

One of those shifts might be to follow the most well researched, highest positive outcome diet out there… the DASH Diet. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This approach is designed to TREAT or PREVENT hypertension (high blood pressure) without the use of medication.

This plan is flexible, balanced, and doesn’t make you buy special foods. The recommendations include:

  • Choosing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

  • Integrate fat-free/low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts

  • Limit foods that are high in saturated fats such as fatty meats, coconut oil*

  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets*

*notice I said “Limit” not “eliminate”. That means you can have some but not a ton.

Want to see the evidence that this approach works? Check out the box below from the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute’s website about the DASH Eating Plan:

Don’t believe me that this works? Want to see more evidence from other DASH diet studies. Visit their website for more information.

Oh yeah, and U.S. News and World Report has the DASH diet tied for first place out of 39 diets as the “Best Diet for Healthy Eating in 2021” (it’s tied with our other favorite approach, the Mediterranean Diet).

As much as we love the DASH diet, it will only help you if you actually follow it! Want help in making healthier lifestyle choices? Not sure where to start? Reach out to us today on our contact page!

Leslie Ouellette-Todd is a Registered Dietitian and the owner of Nourished Lifestyles. When she is not working with clients, she teaches culinary nutrition classes at the University of New England. She also works with UNE medical students to learn how to integrate culinary medicine into their practice.


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