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February 25, 2014 > Heart Health Month is a Good Time to Focus on Smart Food Choices

Heart Health Month is a Good Time to Focus on Smart Food Choices

Washington Hospital Dietitian Offers Tips for Reducing Your Risk for Heart Disease

You are what you eat. YouÕve probably heard that many times. The truth is what you eat can have a significant impact on your health, particularly heart health. A heart healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.
February is American Heart Health Month, a good time to focus on reducing your risk for heart disease by eating a diet that is rich in the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need to keep your heart healthy. Avoiding certain foods that can contribute to high cholesterol and high blood pressure can also help.
ÒWhat you eat can make a big difference when it comes to keeping your heart healthy and avoiding heart disease,Ó said Nachal Bhangal, a registered dietitian at Washington Hospital. ÒDuring the month of February, Washington Hospital is focused on raising awareness about the importance of eating a heart healthy diet.Ó
Through a promotion with Strizzis restaurant, located at 2740 Mowry Avenue in Fremont, heart healthy menu options are being highlighted throughout the month of February. Diners can see firsthand how to make good choices even while eating out.
ÒThe meals are promoted as heart healthy choices that have been approved by Washington Hospital registered dietitians,Ó Bhangal explained. ÒIt helps people see that great-tasting food can also be healthy. Items like salmon and certain pastas are delicious and also offer benefits for your heart.Ó
The Washington Hospital cafˇ is also highlighting heart healthy options during February so that staff and visitors can get a better idea of what a heart healthy diet includes. Educational materials are available to help people better understand what types of food can promote good heart health and which ones you should avoid.
Heart Healthy Diet
Bhangal said itÕs important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which contain important nutrients. She recommends eating a wide variety to ensure you are getting a range of vitamins and minerals as well as plenty of fiber.
ÒScientific evidence suggests that soluble fiber helps to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood,Ó she said. ÒHigh cholesterol can clog the arteries, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Good sources of soluble fiber include peas, beans, bananas, oatmeal and other whole grains, and brown rice.Ó
Reducing the amount of saturated fat you consume can also help to keep cholesterol levels down. Animal fats are the primary source of saturated fats, which is why you should stick to lean meats, skinless chicken, and low-fat dairy products, according to Bhangal.
ItÕs important to avoid trans fat as well. It is often found in cookies, crackers, pie crust, some fried foods, and other products that contain hydrogenated oils.
While itÕs important to reduce saturated fats and avoid trans fat, some fats offer health benefits, she said. For example, monounsaturated fat can help to reduce low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL) otherwise known as ÒbadÓ cholesterol and can be found in almonds, avocados, and oils like olive, canola, peanut, and sunflower.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also important for heart health. They can be found in fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. Other good sources of omega 3Õs are walnuts, flaxseeds, canola and soybean oils. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation and help to lower the risk for heart disease, Bhangal added.
She said another key component of a heart healthy diet is reducing your sodium intake to less than a teaspoon of salt a day, and an even further reduction for people with high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. A low-sodium diet can help to keep blood pressure under control.
ÒReducing the amount of sodium you eat doesnÕt just mean avoiding the salt shaker,Ó Bhangal explained. ÒFor most people, the majority of salt they eat is from processed foods like canned soups, breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, and snack foods such as chips and pretzels. Bacon, sausage, cheese, sauces and condiments are also high in sodium. Restaurant food, especially fast food, can contain a lot of salt as well. You have to be careful. You may think you have picked a healthy option, but it could be loaded with salt depending on how it was prepared and what types of sauces and dressings are used.Ó
For information about nutrition services offered at Washington Hospital, visit To learn about the Heart Program at Washington Hospital, visit

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