Changing your diet, improving your heart
Either when preventing a condition or treating one, healthy eating helps
ANN ARBOR, MI — Through the recommendation of her primary care physician, Martine Perreault began visiting the University of Michigan Health System’s Cardiovascular Medicine program at Domino’s Farms in order to develop a nutritional plan to lower her cholesterol. Now, more than a year after her first visit, she jokes that her dietitian has introduced her to her two new best friends: chickpeas and oatmeal.
Joking aside, Perreault explains that she is grateful for the cardiovascular nutrition program because it has not only taught her about heart healthy foods, but it has also given her the opportunity to take control of her health without relying on costly prescriptions or procedures.
“I would much rather try to make changes in my diet than become dependent on prescription medication, especially since I have a family history of high cholesterol. I see people taking prescription medicine for 30 to 40 years for a condition, and I’d like to find a way around that,” says Perreault.
Martha Weintraub, a cardiovascular dietitian with U-M’s Cardiovascular Medicine at Domino’s Farms, says that healthy eating can help prevent and aid in the treatment of many heart-related conditions— including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, weight management, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart failure.
“It is never too late to improve your health,” says Weintraub. “People have been successful in actually reversing some of their cardiovascular disease, and we can always do something to slow down the progression of the disease so it doesn’t get worse.”
As a cardiovascular dietitian, Weintraub personalizes and prioritizes her clients’ eating plans based upon their lifestyle choices, preferences and goals. For example, she may advise a person with high blood pressure to focus on limiting sodium intake while suggesting that someone with high cholesterol aim to cut back on saturated fats.
In general, Weintraub recommends a diet that includes eight to 10 servings of vegetables and fruits a day and incorporates high fiber whole grains, such as oats and barley, legumes, lean protein, and good sources of calcium. It is also important to include small portions of heart-healthy fats in your diet from sources like olive oil and avocados.
Foods that Weintraub suggests eating sparingly include those with saturated fats and trans fats, high-fat meats, fried foods and highly processed foods, such as cakes, cookies and white flour-based baked goods. She also recommends eating your calories instead of drinking them, so limit your sweetened beverage, alcohol and soda intake.
Ultimately, Weintraub’s main piece of heart-healthy advice is to be conscious of your nutritional choices. Either by creating a food journal or simply thinking twice when you reach for a brownie, be aware of the effects of the foods that you put into your body.
“Generally we would never take medication without thinking about what we are taking, but we often eat food without thinking about our choices and how they affect us,” says Weintraub. “When we are aware of our lifestyle options, we can make choices to improve our health.”
And with her lowered cholesterol level as proof, Perreault agrees.
“It’s definitely worthwhile to take a hard look at your lifestyle and how you can take control of your own health, rather than just being dependent on prescription medication,” she says.
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