Ask the Nutritionist: Heart disease runs in my family. My father died of a heart attack at a young age, what can I do to prevent the same from happening to me?
Nutritionist Heather Reese: Several factors increase your risk of heart disease including smoking, inactivity, obesity and a poor diet. Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Cigarette smoking alone increases your risk of heart disease by raising blood pressure, cholesterol and the tendency for blood clots. Smoking also decreases one’s tolerance for physical activity.
The other three factors I mentioned are all inter-related. If you are overweight you have a higher risk of heart disease than someone who’s weight is within normal limits. However, losing just five to 15 percent of your weight can decrease your risk. Eating a healthy diet and being physically active can help you lose weight. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease.
The guidelines also recommend eating a diet low in saturated and trans fats. Saturated fat is found in animal products and trans fat comes from hydrogenated vegetable oils. Instead, focus on healthy fats like olive, canola, peanut, safflower and sunflower oils. You should also try to consume a diet rich in high fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals, pastas, beans and legumes. Focus on low-fat protein sources like chicken and fish and limit red meat.
By taking these steps you can decrease your risk of heart disease. However, genetics do play a role and you should make sure your physician is aware of your family history and you should see him or her regularly for preventive care.