Are Old Fashioned Oats The Same As Instant Oats Healthy Changes for Heart Month

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Healthy Changes for Heart Month

From my heart to yours: Heart disease remains the number one killer in the United States. Please consider renewing your commitment to heart-healthy habits during Heart Month and beyond.

Knowing that heart disease affects so many people in the United States, I’m sure many of you can relate to my story. My father had a heart condition from the time I was 3 years old and died as a result only 10 years later. A beloved uncle followed, and then another uncle (my father’s brothers). My mother had a heart attack at the age of 80, which was the beginning of her health decline. So recently I myself was challenged with a heart arrhythmia. I was fortunate to have great care at the Cleveland Clinic, where an ablation procedure cured my symptoms—but I’m still careful to follow lifestyle habits to avoid future problems.

I also have a milestone birthday this month and my health is at the center of my thoughts. Granted, I can’t do anything about genetics or age as risk factors, but there is a lot I can do! Just because I’m a registered dietitian nutritionist doesn’t mean I’m immune to health problems – or bad habits for that matter! The past few years have been challenging between caring for our elderly parents and recovering from my own heart problem. But now that things have calmed down a bit, I’m committed to making more heart-healthy changes. For me, it’s not just about losing weight; it’s about being healthy and having more energy to do the things I want to do. I was already doing most of the steps outlined below, and now I’ve added more of them to my regular routine. The steps are in no particular order. Don’t worry about making all the changes at once – just pick a step that you think you can stick with and go from there.

A few important things: If you smoke, stop! Find a good smoking cessation program. Know your numbers: Manage your weight, cholesterol, LDL as well as hypertension and blood sugar if you have diabetes. Find a way to stay active. Follow a plant-based diet and follow your doctor’s orders for prescribed medications. Some of the steps below can help you get started.

Step 1: Increase your physical activity! Exercise lowers blood pressure, strengthens your heart, helps maintain lean body mass, burns calories and makes you feel good! Walking is one of the easiest exercises to fit into your day. Experts encourage a minimum of 10,000 steps per day (equivalent to 5 miles) – and yes, it is possible to fit this into a busy schedule. If you’re just starting out, walk for at least 10 minutes at a time. Gradually work your way up to a minimum of 60 minutes on most days to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommendations.

Before changing your routine, consult your doctor. Once you’ve got it OK, use a fitness tracker or pedometer to count the current number of steps you take per day to use as your starting point. I have worn a pedometer or Fitbit for more than 10 years to help me stay on target. I love the feature on my Fitbit that reminds me to do a minimum of 250 steps every hour! I no longer sit at my computer and work for hours without moving.

Step 2: Cut back on high-calorie drinks. Do you drink sugar-sweetened beverages every day? Just 8 ounces of most sugary drinks contains a whopping 100 calories, and most people don’t stop at 8 ounces. An extra 100 calories a day adds up to 3500 extra calories in just 5 weeks – which can mean an extra pound of weight – or 10 extra pounds in a year!

What about alcohol? Has the “healthy” daily 100 calorie glass of wine turned into 2 or more glasses a day? Alcohol calories drop quickly, and they can also loosen your willpower to control your food intake.

Cut out sugary drinks and alcohol for at least 30 days to break the habit. Replace them with unsweetened beverages such as water, sparkling water, sparkling water (lemon, lime, cucumber or fruit), hot or iced.

Step 3: Cut the saturated fat. Animal fats found in meat, poultry, full-fat dairy products (milk, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, etc.), salad dressings, and fried foods are full of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease. Reduce portions, cut visible fat from meat, remove skin from poultry, prepare food using low-fat cooking methods (baking, frying, roasting), and read labels to identify foods with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats for better health. Skimmed or 1% milk, low-fat cheese and sour cream, low-fat yogurt, and other low-fat dairy products are available—and many of them taste great!

Ready-to-use spray cans of healthy oils found at the grocery store can help control the amount of fat you use. Choose a healthy corn, safflower or olive oil to spray on foods so you can bake instead of frying or brushing foods with oil.

Step 4: Eat your vegetables and fruits! Eat a variety of colors: Green, red, orange, yellow vegetables and fruits contain important nutrients and fiber for good health. These foods are high in vitamin C, A, potassium, antioxidants, phytochemicals; and are naturally low in fat and sodium.

Fill at least half of your plate with vegetables, and have fresh fruit for dessert or snacks.

Step 5: Reduce the sugar. I’ve always had a sweet tooth, but I’ve cut back on sweets to improve my health and manage my weight. Most of us consume much more sugar than we realize. It lurks in juices, jellies, jams, cookies, candies, cakes, pies, regular soda, cereals, snack bars, condiments and many other foods.

Start with obvious sources of sugar and switch to naturally sweet foods like fruit (fresh, canned without syrup, frozen without sugar or dried – go easy here as these are concentrated sources of calories). And don’t think it’s better to switch to raw sugar, honey or agave syrup – it’s still simple sugar.

Read labels: look for the number of grams of sugar per serving. portion and choose alternatives that are lower in sugar. Another caveat: some studies indicate that even artificially sweetened foods and drinks can still create cravings for sweets.

Step 6: Cut sodium and increase potassium. Nearly 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. A diet high in sodium and low in potassium is associated with high blood pressure. Sodium is abundant in our food supply. Years ago it was used to preserve food, but today we have a taste for it and find lower sodium foods bland. To add some zip to your foods, replace high-sodium salt and spice mixes with naturally spicy ingredients such as bell peppers or jalapeno peppers (also high in vitamins and antioxidants) and your favorite salt-free seasonings.

Remember to read labels and avoid foods and drinks high in sodium.

Increasing potassium in your diet can also help lower blood pressure. Bananas, oranges, skinned potatoes, and low sodium V-8 juice are some of my favorite high potassium (low sodium) sources.

Step 7: Switch to whole grains. Focus on whole grains for nutrient-dense foods that can lower blood cholesterol and improve regularity. Whole grains are much tastier than refined white bread, cereals, pasta and rice.

Some of my favorite grains include steel cut oats, kamut and quinoa. I cook my whole grains in a rice cooker, Instant Pot, or a crock pot so I don’t have to supervise the cooking, which usually takes 45-50 minutes on the stove. Many whole grains can be used to make a simple, tasty salad or can be eaten as a hot breakfast mix with fruit and nuts.

For quick and tasty whole grain hot cereal, I like old fashioned oats cooked on high for 2 minutes in the microwave and it’s ready to eat. Top it with some dried cranberries and walnuts to add sweetness and texture. It’s quick and easy, cheap, tastes great, filling – and healthy too!

Step 8: Reduce stress by taking time for yourself. With a busy schedule, it’s important to take time out every day to relax, renew and re-energize! Walking is my time to take a break, step away from everyday stress and enjoy some fresh air, music or time to talk with friends and family. Choose something each day that allows you to take time for yourself: yoga, meditation, a warm bath, or something that helps you recharge. Allow yourself at least 10-15 minutes a day – Yes, you can!

Step 9: Include some stretching and strength training. Strength training is essential for maintaining muscle mass, strength and balance as we age. Stretching helps us avoid injury and reduce pain. Strengthening your core will protect you from back pain and injury, improve posture and help you look slimmer – and who doesn’t want that?

Step 10: Believe you can do it. It takes time to develop new healthy habits. Try one thing that you think you can succeed at and go from there. The most important key is to believe that you can make changes that become lifelong commitments to your health.

Best wishes for a heart-healthy future!

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