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Heart Health and Healthy Eating by Kim Phagen-Hansel

When it comes to eating healthy, it can be confusing with different research results on various foods like butter versus margarine and big words like transfats and hydrogenated oils. Figuring out how to eat healthy and stay healthy, not only to lose weight, but to improve heart health can be challenging.

"The very first thing you need to do is keep track of what's going into your mouth," Holt said. "Become aware of how much added sugar is in your diet. What percentage of processed food is in your diet?"

As you start examining your food intake closely, some key ways to improve your nutrition will emerge. From liquid calories to processed foods, the damage can add up quickly through weight gain and ultimately cause long-term health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and other serious medical conditions.

Most importantly, Holt said people have to want to change or have a goal before they start to make changes to their lifestyle. Ultimately, dieting is not the best way to attempt that, but by changing lifestyle from eating to exercise, the most positive results can be achieved.

"You have to have a reason to change or have a goal," Holt said. The most important question should be, "Are you willing to make the lifestyle change?"

To begin that lifestyle change, Holt encourages people to eliminate liquid calories such as soda and processed foods, add more vegetables, limit carbohydrates and work in small amounts of fat into your diet. Cooking with canola or olive oil can be an easy way to add fats to your diet.

"The fat-free craze of the 1990s did a disservice to everybody," Holt said. "Fat is not the enemy. Fat is going to cause satiety and it's going to tell your brain it's full. Fat signals hormones that say you're full."

However, that also means a person can't overdo it on fats either. A healthy diet should include proteins (but limited red meat), whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, and fiber-rich whole grains. When crafting meals, Holt adds, "Start with a protein, add a vegetable, take out the starch like rice or a potato (that most people include with meals) and add another vegetable."

Another important item to consider when concentrating on diet changes to improve heart health is staying away from transfats, which are extremely harmful to heart health. Transfats increase bad (LDL) cholesterol level and lower the good (HDL) cholesterol, which increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

While nutrition changes are 85 percent of the battle to improve heart health, adding exercise to your daily routine is also important. Simply walking for several minutes can have an impact of health a well-being. If you put all of the diet modifications, exercise and a few other factors together, Holt said you can improve your health drastically.

"Tackle all of it with good nutrition, some exercise, managing stress and sleeping well," Holt said. "If you manage those, you'll see improvement in all of it."

Some easy ways to make significant diet changes include:

  1. Get rid of all liquids with sugar.
  2. Eat carbohydrates with fiber.
  3. Wait 20 minutes before 2nd helpings to allow time for the body to say it's full.
  4. For every minute you watch TV, exercise an equal number of minutes.

Some important things to include in your diet:

  1. Water
  2. Whole foods
  3. Fiber
  4. Some fat

When launching into a healthy lifestyle, here's a few things to consider:

  1. Get support from someone to encourage your lifestyle change.
  2. Use technology for tracking activity, calories burned and food intake.
  3. Get active at the local recreation center, athletic club or take advantage of some of the parks and walking trails in the community.