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Nutritional Choices Impact Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation: Make realistic changes, consult a dietician

There is a strong relationship between nutrition and cardiac health. There are many ways health care providers can advise their patients about appropriate nutrition in order to help them reduce their risk of heart disease.

“First and foremost, they need to assess their weight,” said Liz Combs, a dietician at the University of Kentucky. “Losing weight will have a positive impact on the reduction of heart disease risk.”

It comes down to watching calories, rather than following fad diets, and decreasing saturated fat and trans fat content as well as cholesterol. “Usually if someone has heart disease, less than 7 percent of their diet should come from saturated fat, which translates to only eight to 13 grams,” Combs said. Saturated fat in Americans’ diet is mostly found in cheese and other high-fat dairy products, so dieticians advise using low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

There are misconceptions about the different types of fat. “We have to focus on decreasing saturated fat,” Combs said. “The unsaturated fat options like olive oil, peanut butter and avocado in small amounts is heart healthy.”

A heart-healthy diet entails whole foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Physicians should encourage their patients to focus on brightly colored food such as sweet potatoes and beets; foods like these contain nutrients and antioxidants.

“[Advise them] to go with lean meat like fish, poultry without the skin or lean beef options,” Combs said. “[Patients should] try to eat more of the omega-3 fatty acids, which are heart-healthy fats found in fatty fish products, walnuts, canola and soy bean oil.” Soluble fiber, which reduces heart disease risk, is found in beans, oatmeal and certain fruits that should be eaten with the skin on. Recommend patients monitor sodium and salt intake; limit them to less than 2,000 milligrams a day.

Understanding how to read a food label is highly beneficial. Physicians can help patients learn how much saturated fat, sodium and soluble fiber is in a product so the patients can make informed decisions.

Physicians can also help patients set small goals for improvement. They can start by making simple, realistic changes so the physician can measure their progress with them.

“Keep a food diary and write everything down,” Combs said. “It can be an eye-opening experience.”

It would be advantageous to encourage all your cardiac disease patients in weight reduction, urge them to have regular follow-up exams and meet with a registered dietician for advice on an appropriate heart-healthy diet.

“Dieticians [sometimes recommend] the TLC or therapeutic lifestyle change diet, which is endorsed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute,” said Combs. “If [the patient] sees a dietician and is open to the process of change, he or she will reduce their heart disease risk, probably lose a little bit of weight and increase their energy.”

By Jamie Lober, Staff Writer

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