Know the signs
So how do you know if you or a loved one might be suffering from heart failure? Signs include:
- shortness of breath;
- sudden weight gain;
- frequent dry, hacking cough;
- swollen feet, ankles, hands and abdomen;
- difficulty breathing when lying flat;
- and extreme fatigue.
What’s the worst thing you can do? Smoking. As Murphy informed, smoking constricts blood vessels; roughens the lining of arteries; increases bad cholesterol levels; destroys good cholesterol; causes blood pressure and heart rates to increase; lowers the levels of oxygen in the blood; and makes the blood sticky.
“Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your heart,” said Murphy.
Many heart patients take statins. But they can have side effects many find uncomfortable. If you have trouble taking statins, see a lipidologist: a certified physician specializing in the prevention of dyslipidemia (cholesterol and other lipid disorders) or such related metabolic maladies as diabetes that often lead to heart or vascular disease or stroke. Your lipidologist may recommend Repatha, injections of which dramatically reduce bad cholesterol and decrease the chances of heart attack and stroke.
Suffering from low blood pressure? Drink more water to bring it up. And staying properly hydrated is so critical for heart patients anyway, as Murphy noted.
Stress is another factor that’s very important to consider. Many people can quite literally work themselves to death if they try to take on too many tasks, duties and responsibilities. Stress constricts blood vessels; increases bad cholesterol; roughens the lining of arteries; increases abdominal fat; and makes the heart work harder.
Proper exercise can help reduce stress. Exercise strengthens the heart muscle; controls blood sugar; helps fight depression; and helps you to control your weight.
Good diet, good heart
A heart-healthy diet is crucial to general health and a longer life.
Murphy recommended the DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet as good for heart patients.
You’ll want to limit your total fat intake. Avocados are good, often called a “super food” by nutritionists. Don’t cook with vegetable or coconut oil, as Murphy recommended.
“What does it look like in its solid form?” she asked her audience, citing the latter oil. “That’s right: lard.”
Instead, switch to the healthier options of olive or canola oil. And of course, avoid fried foods. Bake, broil, roast or grill instead. Avoid saturated and trans-fats; these are found in such desserts and snacks as cookies, crackers, croissants, pretzels, popcorn and other foods you may like but that won’t like you.
Murphy noted that you shouldn’t have more than half an ounce of saturated fat per day. You must be sensible about your caloric intake. Extra calories convert to stored fat, and that, of course, is just what you don’t need.
What to do? Choose low-fat proteins, such as dried beans, black beans and pintos; skinless chicken and turkey breast; unsalted nuts for a healthy snack; lean pork, such as pork tenderloin; and fish, provided that it’s not fried.
“I know fish camps are very popular around here on Friday nights,” Murphy observed, but she did add that such places usually have blackened, broiled or grilled options available these days.
Talking of fish, tuna, salmon and mackerel are very good. Canned tuna packed in water is OK. But if you like shellfish, be sure to have them only in moderation; they do have cholesterol, as Murphy informed.
Like beef? Well, once a week or maybe once a month might be all right for you. Just ask your doctor.
Yogurt and cottage cheese are very good for you. Murphy recommended “Activia” yogurt, because of its helpful bacteria that aid digestion. Such ingredients also facilitate regular bowel movements (so important to heart patients) and reduce painful bloating and gas.
Vegetables are good, of course, whether fresh, frozen or canned. Be sure to find the “no salt added” variety. You’ll become a label-reader when you’re shopping for groceries now, as Murphy observed. But take it slow and don’t obsess over it. No need to allow such carefulness to add hours to your grocery run. Take it a little bit at a time, and you’ll get used it, learning soon enough which options are best for you.
Whole fruits, not fruit juice, are recommended. But if you like fruit juice, Murphy stressed that it’s important to get the “no sugar added” kind.
Speaking of sugar, oatmeal is a good source of fiber and the perennial staple for heart patients. You’ll need not quite an ounce and a quarter of fiber a day. But oatmeal in packets can have a lot of sugar. Murphy recommended the old-fashioned, non-processed oatmeal that you cook on a stove.
“The more it’s processed, the worse it is,” she said of food in general.
Avoid white bread, white rice and potatoes in all forms, as they will run up your cholesterol. The ubiquity of French fries, hush puppies and the like in local restaurants can make this particularly hard to get used to. But it can be done.
“Eat out less often,” Murphy emphasized.
Plus, food in restaurants can have a lot of unnecessary salt. You’ve got to limit your sodium intake to less than a third of a teaspoon per day. And again, remember to look at those labels. But cutting out salt altogether is really the best option, and the myriad substitutes now available make this easier than ever. You can choose from many herbs and spices. “Mrs. Dash” comes in several varieties; try this, and you’ll never miss salt again.
And there’s a big difference, said Murphy, between an occasional dietary cheat and making it an everyday habit.
“We’re not going to tell folks not to have cake on their birthdays,” she said with a smile. “Make the changes you can make, a little at a time. You can do this.”
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