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Keeping a healthy heart


Jean Ince | County Extension Agent Staff Chair

We’ve all heard the statistics. Coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. It’s a disease that doesn’t discriminate according to race or sex.
More than 42 percent of all deaths are contributed to some form of cardiovascular disease. The truth is, however, that many deaths from heart attacks or stroke are preventable.
When you hear the words “heart disease,” you probably think of heart attacks or strokes. However, high blood pressure, angina (chest pain), poor circulation, and abnormal heartbeats are heart disease as well.
We have known that heart disease is linked to high total blood cholesterol levels. But only recently have we learned that lowering those levels also lowers that risk.
Everyone has blood cholesterol in their bloodstream. It only becomes a problem when your levels get too high. When your cholesterol levels get elevated, it is more likely to collect on the walls of your arteries and other blood vessels, gradually causing the artery walls to become narrow and block the flow of oxygen rich blood. This is called atherosclerosis.
Knowing your blood cholesterol level may help you lower your risk for heart disease. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute sets the following total blood cholesterol risk level guidelines for adults age 20 or older: Desirable: Less than 200 milligrams per dL; Borderline High: 200-239 milligrams per dL; High: 240 or more milligrams per dL.
If you are among the 50 percent of Americans with high or borderline high total blood cholesterol levels, a few changes in your food choices and lifestyle may bring your total blood cholesterol levels down to an adequate range, and at the same time, your risk for heart disease.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
• Eat a diet low in fat. Reduce your daily fat intake to no more than 30 percent of your total calories for a day. Don’t try to eliminate fat totally, just cut back. You need some fat to keep you healthy, and many foods with fat also contain other nutrients your body needs.
• Follow an eating pattern with less saturated fat. Reduce the saturated fatty acids in your diet to less than 10 percent of your total daily calories. Saturated fats boost blood cholesterol levels more than anything else you consume.
• Follow an eating plan that’s low in cholesterol. It’s not necessary to eliminate foods with cholesterol, but you do need to limit the amount you consume to 300 milligrams a day.
• Eat more fiber. Eating more fiber rich foods may help lower blood cholesterol levels. That’s because the soluble fiber may help take cholesterol away before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
• Eat more fruits and vegetables. Just remember to eat them with their skins on so that you get the fiber plus all the minerals and vitamins. Eating a low-fat diet is well accepted as a strategy to promote a healthy heart. Research is also showing a strong link to high intakes of antioxidant vitamins: beta carotene, and vitamins A and C.
• Increase your soy intake. Research shows that eating more soy protein and less animal protein can help lower high cholesterol. As little as 25 grams of soy protein a day may be enough to lower cholesterol levels. This can be accomplished by eating two to three servings of soy foods.
• Maintain or improve your weight. The more excess body fat you have, the greater risk you have for developing heart disease. Where your body stores that excess also makes a difference to your heart health. Those who carry the excess weight in the abdomen area have a higher cardiac risk than those with extra padding in the hips and thighs.
• If you have high blood pressure, get it under control. High blood pressure or hypertension is a key risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
• If you smoke, give up the habit. Smoking seems to raise blood pressure levels and heart rate. For those who stop smoking, the risk for heart disease goes down over the years, even for long-time smokers.
• Keep moving! Get the heart-healthy benefits of regular moderate exercise. Active living helps keep your blood cholesterol levels healthy, reduces blood pressure, helps you control body weight and stress as you burn energy.
It is important to remember that people vary in the way they respond to dietary changes. Your heart healthy diet should be individually designed to meet your needs and fit into your lifestyle, and should always be done upon the advice of a medical professional.
If you would like more information on heart health, contact the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture in Howard County. You may contact me at 870-845-7517 or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.
Recipe of the Week
Here is a recipe you might want to try out this Valentine’s Day. It is from the American Heart Association. It is rich and gooey, easy-to prepare and satisfies that chocolate lover in you. It magically bakes into two distinct layers, one cakelike and the other a chocolate pudding sauce.
Chocolate Pudding Cake
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
Cake Layer:
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup chopped pecans
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup fat-free evaporated milk
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pudding Layer:
½ cup sugar
¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Dust the bottom with 1 teaspoon cocoa powder.
For the cake layer, in a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, pecans, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Add the evaporated milk, oil, and vanilla, stirring until well combined. Using a rubber scraper or the back of a large spoon, spread the batter in the pan. (The batter will be very thick.)
For the pudding layer, in another medium bowl, stir together the sugar, brown sugar, and cocoa powder. Whisk in the water and vanilla. Pour over the batter. Do not stir.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched lightly in the center. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, spooning the pudding over the cake.
Yield: 12 servings
Nutrition Information Per Serving: Calories 175, Total Fat 4 g., Saturated Fat 0.5 g., Cholesterol 0 mg., Sodium 105 mg., Carbohydrates 33 g., Fiber 1 g., Sugars 23 g., Protein 3 g.