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Find answers to frequently asked questions about nutrition, like why healthy eating is important and how to improve your diet.

  • How does sodium intake affect heart health?
  • Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure, which causes an estimated 45% of heart disease in the United States. By limiting sodium intake to 2,300 mg a day (or 1,500 mg for some adults), you can drastically reduce your risk for heart disease.
  • Why does the Mediterranean diet reduce risk for heart disease?
  • The Mediterranean diet differs from traditional low-fat diets because it does not discourage consumption of fats altogether. Instead, the Mediterranean diet is full of “healthy” fats, like those found in fish, olive oil and nuts, which have been shown to have many heart-healthy benefits.
  • Why is it important to know your BMI and waist circumference?
  • BMI can be helpful in determining if you’re a healthy weight or not, but it’s not 100% accurate. If you have very little or very high amounts of muscle, your BMI will be skewed. Also, research has shown that how we carry weight is more important than our BMI when it comes to risk for heart disease. Belly fat is a known risk factor for heart disease and carrying excess weight around the midsection raises cardiovascular risk, regardless of BMI.
  • How are diet and stroke risk related?
  • The relationship between diet and risk for stroke is often overlooked. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke, and diet plays an important role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Having a balanced diet, low in salt and full of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce risk for stroke.
  • What foods are highest in calcium?
  • There are many foods that contain high levels of calcium. Green vegetables, seeds, nuts, herbs, soy, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are some of the best sources of dietary calcium.
  • How can older adults improve and extend quality of life?
  • The best way for older adults to live longer and healthier is to prevent and manage chronic conditions through physical activity and diet. It’s important to reduce and control any cardiovascular risk factors that you may have, and to take advantage of preventive services like health screenings and immunizations.
  • How much calcium do I need?
  • Most adults over 19 years of age need 1,000 mg a day of calcium (except for women 51-70 years old who need 1,200 mg/day), and older adults (over 71) need 1,200 mg daily. See how much calcium you should be getting.

    Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need the same amount of calcium and vitamin D as other women their age.

  • What is the connection between alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation?
  • Scientists have a couple of theories about how the two factors interact.  Alcohol interferes with the heart’s electrical system and ability to maintain a steady rhythm.  It also directly affects the structure of the heart muscle.  Another speculation is that long-term heavy drinkers may have heart muscle changes that increase their risk of AF even before they show symptoms of chronic heart failure.
  • What is the relationship between eating patterns and good nutrition?
  • Some research suggests that children and teens who skip breakfast are at higher risk for becoming overweight. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that all people eat a healthy breakfast. Snacks should consist of nutritious, non-processed foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, and low-fat dairy products instead of candy or fast food.  In addition, both children and adults should limit TV and other “screen time,” which is often accompanied by unhealthy snacking.
  • Are all types of chocolate good for your heart?
  • It is important to note that not all chocolates are created equal! In general, the best chocolates for your heart are ones that are the least processed and contain the greatest levels of flavanols and cocoa powder.

  • Does higher omega-3 fatty acid consumption increase cardiovascular benefits?

  • Based on guidelines set forth in this review, individuals should consume at least 250mg/day of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids or at least 2 servings/week of oily fish. However, it has not yet been proven that consuming omega-3 fatty acids beyond this minimum would provide more cardiovascular benefits.
  • Do wine, beer, and spirits all have the same health effects?
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, the key is moderation. Heavy drinking of any type of alcoholic beverage puts you at risk for serious conditions including high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and obesity. However, researchers have observed that people who drink moderately may have a lower risk cardiovascular disease. Although no studies have directly compared the potential risk and benefits of different types alcoholic beverages some researchers speculate that antioxidant substances found in wine, particularly red wine, are responsible for the protective effect.

  • Is it OK for me to drink alcohol?
  • This is a complex question best decided by you and your doctor based on your own health history. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), moderate alcohol use--up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people--causes few if any problems for most adults. (One drink equals one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.) However, you should not drink at all if:  

    • You are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
    • You have a medical condition that can be made worse by drinking. 
    • You plan to drive or do other tasks that require you to be alert.
    • You are taking medicines that interact with alcohol.
    • You have had a problem with alcohol in the past.
    • You are younger than age 21.  
  • Should I eat seafood?
  • The 2010 Dietary Guidelines encourage everyone to eat at least 2 servings (8 oz) of seafood a week. The health benefits of fish and shellfish as a source for low-fat protein heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids outweigh the risks from mercury and other pollutants, which are sometimes found in these foods.
  • How does chocolate improve cardiovascular health?
  • Although the exact relationship is unclear, many suggest that the antioxidants and flavanols found in cocoa and chocolate help resist damage to the heart over time. Furthermore, certain types of “good” fats such as oleic acid, most commonly found in olive oil, may help protect the heart and control cholesterol levels.
  • How can I reduce my risk for heart attack?
  • You can significantly reduce risk for heart attack by knowing your numbers and addressing any cardiovascular risk factors that you may have, including hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking. You can also help reduce cardiovascular risk by maintaining a healthy weight and heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly and controlling stress.

    Watch a news video about this study featuring CardioSmart Editor-in-Chief, Dr. JoAnne Foody.

  • What if I have tried to learn more about my health but still have trouble understanding?
  • Patients who have trouble understanding their health conditions should ask for help from their health care team, whether it's a doctor, nurse or counselor. Health care providers can help point patients to a variety of resources that can cater to individual needs.
  • What is the best way to lose weight?

  • Weight loss boils down to a simple formula: burn more energy each day than you take in from food. A deficit of 3500 calories will net one pound of fat loss. Therefore, if you cut down your food intake by just 100 calories a day, you can expect to lose 10 pounds by the end of the year.

    Although it’s tempting to look for a quick fix with a speedy weight loss scheme, many popular diets are unhealthy or produce only temporary results. You’ll have better luck with an eating plan that includes a variety of healthful foods and gives you enough calories and nutrients to meet your body’s needs. Taking it slow by making ongoing eating and exercise changes is the best way to reach and maintain your optimal weight.
  • What are good sources of vitamin D?

  • Vitamin D can be found naturally in a few food sources such as fatty fish, cheese and egg yolks. Vitamin D is also added to some food products like milk and some yogurts, juices and cereals. The best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency, however, is to get enough regular exposure to the sun and to take supplements when necessary.
  • What are the best sources of isoflavones?

  • Soybeans are the most common source of isoflavones, with the most popular soy products being soy milk, tofu, edamame, soybeans and tempeh. Isoflavones can also be found in meat alternatives such as soy burgers, but be sure to check the nutrition labels; meat alternatives tend to have fewer isoflavones than other natural sources and can be high in sodium. Also, a number of isoflavone supplements are available for those who don’t like the taste of soy products.
  • What foods are highest in omega-3 fatty acids?

  • Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are foods containing the most omega-3 fatty acids, followed by certain fish, fish oils and nuts. Certain plants and spices are also high in omega-3 fatty acid, such as fresh basil, dried oregano and grape leaves. 

  • What foods are low in sodium and high in potassium?
  • Most fruits, vegetables and dairy products have a low sodium-potassium ratio, meaning they are good sources of potassium without high levels of salt. Processed foods, on the other hand, are often high in sodium and contain less potassium.
  • What foods should I avoid when trying to limit sodium intake?

  • While many foods naturally contain small amounts of sodium, it is estimated that 75 percent of dietary sodium comes from processed foods. When limiting salt intake, try to avoid prepared meals and limit consumption of condiments, canned and frozen foods, and packaged snacks, which contain some of the highest concentrations of sodium. Always read food labels when possible to help accurately measure your salt intake each day.
  • What foods high in flavanol?

  • Heart-healthy flavanols can be found in many fruits and vegetables, such as apples, blueberries, black beans and tomatoes. Dark chocolate and other chocolates that are the least processed and contain the greatest levels of cocoa powder are highest in flavanol and other heart-healthy nutrients.
  • What does the dietary portfolio consist of?

  • The four categories of the dietary portfolio are soy protein, sticky fibers, plant sterols and nuts. Good sources of soy protein include soy-based meat substitutes, such as soy burgers, soy cold cuts and soy milk. Sticky fibers can be found in products such as Metamucil, or grains such as oats and barley. Plant sterols can be naturally found in some foods, such as avocados, corn oil, and sunflower seeds, and is often added to foods, such as margarine and fruit drinks. Lastly, nuts like almonds and pistachios are part of the dietary portfolio.

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