Since 1963, February has been designated as American Heart Health Awareness Month, but according to Dr. Kit Helm, Medical Director of AMC’s Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehab Program, heart disease continues to be one of the most important health issues facing Americans today.
On Tuesday, at a special “Learning Lunch” sponsored by Angel Medical Center, Helm gave a special presentation on heart health. “Heart disease is the single biggest killer in the United States and in the developing world,” Helm told those who gathered in the AMC cafeteria to hear the talk.
In his presentation, Helm reviewed the major risk factors for heart disease, the basics of food and how food affects the heart, including a detailed explanation of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. He concluded with a list of recommendations for a heart healthy diet.
What is the key to heart healthy diet? A diet that helps to reduce risks that contribute to coronary artery disease or CAD. Helm explained that one of the biggest things that puts the heart in danger are blockages in the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
The major risk factors for CAD are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, smoking and sedentary life-style. Helm noted that in four of the six factors, diet plays a major role. Because of this, it is important to understand the basic elements of food and what the body needs.
Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fiber. Helm explained that the molecular structure of carbohydrates is a series of sugar molecules linked together like a chain. Primarily, carbohydrates are derived from plants. Potatoes, grains, bread, pasta and other starches are all sources of carbohydrates. Just as animals store energy in tissue as fat, plants store energy in seeds as starch. When carbohydrates are broken down by the body, they become sugar, which is either burned as energy or stored as fat.
Proteins are organic compounds made up of amino acids. Sources of protein include meat, fish and dairy products. In addition, there are many plant sources of protein, including beans, legumes, soy, grains. The average male may need about two ounces of protein a day. Helm noted that Americans get the majority of their protein from animal sources: hamburgers, steaks, and other meats. “Where there are animals, there is fat,” Helm reminded his audience.
Chemically, fat is a triglyceride compound which can come from both animal and plant sources. Helm discussed the three types of fats – unsaturated, saturated, and trans fats – of which, unsaturated fats are the most easily processed by the body. Saturated fats are less healthy than unsaturated fats because they are harder to process and more likely to be stored in fat tissue.
Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat, primarily a manmade product, which Helm called the “evil” fat. “Our biology has a real hard time utilizing this,” Helm explained. “Cells don't want it.” Because of this, trans fats play a significant role in forming plaque in arteries, Helm said.
Dessert pastries, Twinkies and frozen french fries are just some of the common products in which trans fats are commonly found. But Helm noted that many companies are eliminating trans fats from their ingredient list. “It's not just a health issue now; it’s becoming a P.R. issue.”
Helm explained that calories are a unit of energy. Fat has more than twice as many calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins. Similarly, alcohol has a little less than twice as many. Helm says it is important for people to be aware of the amount of calories they require each day. An average male may require 2,500 kcal.
“For the most part, you want to get no more than 30 percent of your total calories from fat,” Helm explained. “Of that less than seven percent should be from saturated fats. Trans fats should be eliminated.” Helm also noted that healthier fats can be found in products such as olive oil, canola oil and margarine spreads.
Helm then presesnted a list of guidelines for a heart healthy diet. “The take home message is be mindful of what you’re putting in your body,” Helm concluded. “That’s where it starts.
Heart Health Awareness Month at AMC
Angel Medical Center, in partnership with various other organizations, has organized a number of events in February to raise heart health awareness. The hospital reports that more people are admitted for heart-related problems than any other issue. Cardiovascular and circulatory disease, heart disease and respiratory disease were the top three discharges recorded at the hospital, contributing to the fact that Macon County’s discharges are higher than the state average.
The following Angel sponsored events scheduled this month are all open to the public:
• Thursday, Feb. 17: Heart Health lecture by Dr. Keegan and Cardiac Nurse Kim Watkins in the hospital cafeteria at 5 p.m.
• Saturday, Feb. 19: Heart Health Walk begins at 9 a.m. at Tartan Hall.
• Monday, Feb. 21: Heart Factors Lecture by Dr. Kit Helm and Tom Forkner of Angel’s Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab Program, 5-6 p.m. in the Video Conference Room, 3F, AMC.
• Saturday, Feb. 26: Pancake Breakfast at Fatz Café to benefit the AMC Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab Program.
For more information, contact Tom Forkner at (828)349-8290.
Recommendations for a heart healthy diet:
• Choose low-fat protein sources, chicken, fish, lean pork and beef, soy, eggs, skim milk, low fat cheeses, legumes, and beans.
• Don’t deep fry your food. Baking and grilling are better than frying.
• Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, or even fresh frozen fruits and vegetables or low-sodium canned vegetables.
• Eat more whole grains, brown rice instead of white rice, high fiber cereals, oatmeal. “When you include the whole grain, you are including the bran, which is the seed coating, and the germ which is the protein,” Helm explained.
• Reduce salt. Don’t use the salt shaker at the table.
• Be mindful of what you eat. Watch your serving sizes. Wait ten minutes before going back for seconds. Don't eat while watching television. Make weekly menus. Pack your lunch. Learn how to read labels. Make gradual changes to your diet.
• Exercise a minimum of 30 minutes five days a week. It’s not a diet tip, but it’s just as important.