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I (heart) healthy living

February 11, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE

Want to live longer and keep your heart healthy? Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables: Decrease your intake of fat, sodium and sugar and live a more active lifestyle.

Here are more specifics:

Choose low-fat foods often. Low-fat foods are generally crisp, watery, dry or chewy. This describes most fruits and vegetables, dried beans and peas, low-fat dairy products, whole grain breads and cereals and lean meats such as turkey, chicken and fish.

Eat more soluble fiber. Many foods of plant origin contain a mixture of different types of fiber. The soluble fiber that is found in foods, such as oats and dried beans and peas, lowers LDL cholesterol. The daily recommendation for fiber consumption is 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Cook a half-cup serving of dried beans or peas and you'll eat 4 to 8 grams of soluble fiber. One cup of uncooked oatmeal contains about four grams of soluble fiber.

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Use low-fat cooking methods. Broil, boil, seam, poach, braise, bake and roast rather than fry. Skim fat from meat juices before adding to stews, soups and gravies.

Serve high-fat dressings, gravies or sauces on the side. Flavor vegetables and pastas with herbs, lemon or onion, rather than butter or cheese sauces.

Use less fat when cooking. Generally, fat can be reduced by one-third to one-half in a recipe without too much ill effect on the result.

Be nuts about nuts. Nuts are high in fat, but the fat they contain is primarily unsaturated and beneficial for reducing risk of heart disease. Hazelnuts, almonds and pistachios are all high in fiber. Walnuts provide good amounts of monounsaturated fat and fiber. But all nuts are loaded with calories, so eat in moderation.

Eat more fish. Fat in fish contains unsaturated fatty acids or omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the heart. Eating two to three servings of fish each week has the potential to help significantly reduce heart attacks, strokes and lower blood pressure. Baked, broiled or poached fish is a more healthful choice than fried fish.

Drink one to two glasses of wine a day. Scientists are not sure how, but moderate wine drinking has been shown to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. Wine and grape juice contain compounds called polyphenols that act as antioxidants. Antioxidants might protect the artery wall from damage, which is the initiating factor of plaque formation. Because wine consumption can lead to alcohol addiction, some experts recommend purple grape juice instead.

Eating out? Share your meal. Many restaurants take pride in serving large portions. Before you start eating, divide your portion in half and share it or ask for a take-home container so you can enjoy the rest at a later meal. You could also consider ordering an appetizer as your entre.

Eat slowly. No matter what the sizes of your meal, slow down and try to make it last at least 20 minutes. That's how long it takes for the message to get to your brain that you are satisfied. This will help you avoid feelings of being overstuffed and help reduce fat intake.

Get activity into your daily routine. Include physical activity as part of your routine. Choose activities that you enjoy and can do regularly. What's important is to be active most days of the week and make it part of daily routine. Try to do at least 10 minutes of the activity at a time, shorter bursts of activity will not have the same health benefits. Physical activity should be moderate or vigorous and add up to at least 30 minutes a day.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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