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  • Sophia Kamveris, MS, RD

The ABC's of Healthy Living

Below are some 'ABC' highlights to use as a reference to ensure a healthy heart and overall healthy lifestyle:

Alcohol: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. A single drink is 12 ounces of beer; 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5- ounces, or a “shot” of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey).

Blood Sugar: Keep blood sugars (glucose) at healthy levels to prevent diabetes. Pre-diabetes is diagnosed when your blood glucose level is higher than normal but not high enough to be diabetes. Losing at least 5 to 10 percent of your weight can prevent or delay diabetes, and even reverse pre-diabetes. Goals for fasting blood sugar is less than 100 mg/dl or a hemoglobin A1C of less than 5.7%.

Calcium: Calcium is a mineral vital for the formation of strong bones and teeth. It is also essential in small amounts for blood clotting, muscle contraction and nervous systems transmissions. Eating foods high in calcium is the best way to meet daily requirements listed here: Men & Women (ages >50 years) need 1200 mg; Men & Women (ages 19-50 years) need 1000 mg; both Children & Adolescents (9-18 years) and Men & Women (ages 17-18 years) need 1300 mg.

Vitamin D: The sun is our greatest source of vitamin D. A light-skinned person with no sunscreen will absorb 20,000-30,000 IU of vitamin D in 30 minutes. Darker skin acts as a filter and can diminish absorption, putting African-Americans at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency.

It’s important to supplement your diet with vitamin D rich foods or to take a supplement during winter months. Current recommendations are: 600 IU for ages 4 to 70 years of age and 800 IU for those older than 70 years. Foods rich in vitamin D (in the order of greatest concentration) include: cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, sardines, milk, and egg yolks.

Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity provides heart health benefits. Try a variety of exercises to keep you motivated and to work different muscle groups. According to the AHA, all healthy adults (ages 18 to 64) should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g., brisk walking) every week; or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g., jogging, running) every week. They also suggest muscle-strengthening activities twice a week.

Fiber: The recommended daily amount is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. After age 50, the fiber needs drop to 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men. Choose nuts, whole grains like whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and bulgur; fresh fruits and vegetables with skins; and legumes.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These fats are beneficial for the hearts of healthy people, as well as those that have, or are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times a week. Serving sizes are 3.5 ounce cooked or about 3⁄4 cup of flaked fish. Fatty fish are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids. Examples include salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, lake trout, and albacore tuna.

Polyphenols: These micronutrients may play a significant role in the oxidative processes in the body, and hence, in the prevention of some cancers and in cardiovascular disease. Fruits and beverages, such as tea and red wine, constitute the main sources of polyphenols, but whole grains and legumes are also good sources.

Saturated Fats: These fats are generally found in animal products but are also present in some vegetable oils. They raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. For healthy individuals, restrict saturated fats to less than 10% of your total daily intake OR less than 7% of total calorie intake if you have any cardiac related conditions. On a 2000-calorie diet, this translates to no more than16 to 22 grams of saturated fat (7%-10%) per day.

Sodium: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends less than 1500 milligrams (mg) per day, but that is a very limited amount. Try not to exceed 2400 mg/day and work your way down from here to 1500. Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt and be careful in restaurants, as there is a lot of hidden sodium in tomato and cheese sauces, marinades, salad dressings, and soups.

Sugar: The AHA recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than 50% of your daily caloric intake. For women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons of sugar). For men, it’s 150 calories per day (or about 9 teaspoons). The recommendations focus on all added sugars, without singling out any particular type.

Trans Fats: These fats are artificially manufactured and clog arteries. They are present in any foods that have been hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. Right now, the Food and Drug Administration authorizes food labels to state “0 grams” of trans fat if the food contains less than 0.5 grams per serving. So, look for “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients list and avoid these foods. In 2018, these fats will be banned from food products!

Weight: Aim for a healthy body weight. Waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) are two parameters to measure healthy weights. Waist circumference measures the distance around your natural waist (just above the navel), while BMI measures your body weight relative to height. If your BMI is greater than or equal to 25, your goal for waist circumference is less than 40 inches if you're a man, and less than 35 inches if you're a woman.


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