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Poor Diet Tied to Half of U.S. Deaths From Heart Disease

May 16, 2017

As Americans, we do not consume enough of the foods that reduce our risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke and we are taking in too many foods that increase our risk. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that 45.4% of cardiometabolic deaths in 2012 were related to less than adequate dietary habits. 

The Foods We Should Limit

A significant part of the problem is that we’re actually eating too much of some foods. For starters, we are taking in too much sodium and sugar-sweetened beverages.  

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported that from 2007 to 2010, the average male aged 31 to 50 in the U.S. was taking in 4500 mg of sodium per day. For women aged 31 to 50, this average was just above 3000 mg per day. So what is recommended? The American Heart Association recommends less than 2300 mg per day. Ideally, we should strive for 1500 mg per day. We can reduce this intake by reading nutrition labels and looking for foods that have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. Does this seem daunting? Start by reducing intake of luncheon meats, fast food, frozen dinners, and canned soups. Put down the salt shaker at meals and instead, try a variety of herbs and spices in cooking.

And what about sugar? Well, did you know that there is about 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can of soda? Or almost 17 teaspoons in a 20-ounce bottle? The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar for men and no more than 6 teaspoons for women per day. You can see how sugar-sweetened beverages can put you over the recommended limit quite easily!  

The Foods We Should Increase

Lack of consumption of fruits and vegetables is a major issue for most people. You may have heard the phrase ‘Strive for Five’, encouraging you to consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Ultimately, our goal should be 5-9 servings per day. Fresh, frozen, or canned varieties are a good way to increase your intake, though with canned vegetables, you should choose low sodium or no salt added. Additionally, make sure that your canned fruit options are packed in water or 100% juice. 

According to Renata Micha, assistant researcher at Tufts University and lead author of the study, Americans are also not consuming enough nuts and seeds, whole grains, or fish (specifically, omega-3 fatty acids).

Make it a goal to incorporate 2 servings per week of omega-3 rich fish into your dietary regimen. Salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and sardines are all sources of omega-3’s. Have a piece of salmon for dinner and a tuna sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread during the week and you have already met your goal!

Nuts and seeds can be a simple addition to your dietary regimen. Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds to your morning oatmeal or throw in a ¼ cup walnuts. There’s a bonus with flaxseeds and walnuts: they also contain omega-3 fats. If you like to snack on nuts, pack them in individual snack bags in order to prevent overdoing it with portion size.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with changing your dietary habits, start small. Work on cutting down on sodium this week, then work on adding omega-3’s next week. All of the adjustments that you make along the way will help to improve your long-term health.

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