February is American Heart Month and for good reason. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. One in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, which is equal to 2,200 deaths per day. There are many factors that play a role in the development of heart disease. Some are genetic, which dietary manipulation will not affect. Others include: smoking, obesity, stress and sedentary lifestyle. Lipid disturbances such as high cholesterol, high triglycerides, low HDL and elevated lipoprotein are also a large factor.
Fortunately, research continues to show that people who follow a controlled-carb, higher-fat eating plan like Atkins (that does not include trans fats) generally had better levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and lower levels of triglycerides, which lowers the risk for ischemic heart disease and stroke. They also lost more weight than people who followed a standard low-fat diet. In addition to following Atkins, here are some other ways you can lower your risk for heart disease.
- Eat often. Eating smaller and more frequent meals will help stabilize your blood sugar levels throughout the day, plus eating every three to four hours will help keep your energy levels balanced. If you’re on the go, try an Atkins Advantage Café Caramel shake. It’s made with real coffee and infused with rich caramel, plus it features an optimal low-sugar mix of protein and essential vitamins and minerals.
- Fill up with fiber. Fiber binds to cholesterol and acts like a broom to sweep it out of the body. Fiber also helps food to stay in your stomach longer, so that you feel more full for longer. Make sure you’re eating the full amount of recommended grams of net carbs of vegetables for your specific phase of Atkins.
- Eliminate trans fats. Trans fats raise your levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol while lowering your levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol. This combination leads to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Commercial baked goods such as crackers, cookies and cakes and many fried foods like doughnuts and French fries may contain trans fats. Shortenings and margarines may also be high in trans fats. Read your food labels carefully and watch out for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is another term for trans fat. Also keep in mind that in the United States, if a food has less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving, the food label can read 0 grams trans fat. Although that’s a small amount of trans fat, if you eat multiple servings, you could exceed recommended limits.
- Get moving. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of brisk activity five days a week. Even if you are new to exercise, you can start slowly with a walk around the block. And you don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once. You can break up your 30 minutes into three 10-minute increments.
- Stress less. Stress is a part of life, which is why learning how to control it is important. Too much stress can affect how much you sleep, what you eat and even lead to depression. All of which can raise your risk of heart disease. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep a night, make exercise a consistent part of your life and stick with Atkins’ controlled-carb eating plan.
Yancy, W. S., Bakst, R., Bryson, W., et al., “Effects of a Very-Low-Carbohydrate Diet Program Compared With a Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol, Reduced Calorie Diet,” October 7, 2001, Abstract of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity Annual Meeting, Quebec City, Canada.