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Diet and other lifestyle factors play a role in heart health

When it comes to heart health, there is much more to pay attention to than what you eat.

In addition to diet, there are other lifestyle factors that play a role. Lauren Smith, a registered dietitian from West Chester who is the owner of Lauren Smith Nutrition Coaching LLC, discussed what to be mindful of.

“Exercise habits, alcohol intake, smoking, stress levels and nutrition all play a role in how the heart functions,” Smith said.

Exercise habits, alcohol intake, smoking, stress levels and nutrition all play a role in how the heart functions.(Courtesy of Anna Shvets)

The American Heart Association suggests aiming for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or an equal combination of both) each week.

“Regular physical activity can help you maintain your weight, keep off weight that you lose and reach physical and cardiovascular fitness,” the AHA states on its website. “If it’s hard to schedule regular exercise, look for ways to build short bursts of activity into your daily routine such as parking farther away and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Ideally, your activity should be spread throughout the week.”

As a nutrition coach with over 7,000 Instagram followers, Smith focuses on behavioral changes with her clients.

“I use a combination of education and motivational interviewing,” she said, adding that her services are offered exclusively virtually. “I do not focus on weight in my practice, but instead other clinical markers like their lab work, energy levels, digestion, sleep and mental relationship to food.”

In terms of directing clients by way of nutrition when it comes to being proactive about preventing heart disease, Smith said the focus is on eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and a mix of heart healthy fats like omega 3’s, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

She said that plenty of fiber is needed in the diet to ensure good cholesterol levels.

“Fiber is found in fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes and nuts and seeds,” Smith said. “The fruits that are particularly high in fiber are berries. Consuming fiber is important for the heart because it helps keep our LDL cholesterol levels low, and therefore lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

For those who are at high risk for heart disease or who have cardiovascular issues, Smith suggests they work with a registered dietitian to tailor a diet specifically to their lifestyle.

“I use an individual approach with each client to tailor a plan exactly to their needs, lifestyle and preferences,” she said. “While there are general guidelines for heart health, application of these guidelines can look really different person to person depending upon their age, career and schedule.”

For the general population who are at risk or who already have cardiovascular issues, Smith said it’s safe to say they should be monitoring their sodium intake, avoiding saturated fats and staying away from trans fats.

For a heart healthy diet you want to strive for a variety of colors, complex carbs, a mix of heart healthy fats and a variety of lean proteins.(Courtesy of Nathan Cowley)

It’s never too early to start following a heart-healthy diet.

“A heart healthy diet is truly just a general healthy diet for everyone,” Smith said. “You want to strive for a variety of colors, complex carbs, a mix of heart healthy fats and a variety of lean proteins. This helps all ages reach their nutrient needs, so it’s never too early to start.”

Sustainable changes with diet are best, so it’s best to avoid making extreme changes, such as through fad dieting, which isn’t likely to last.

“If it is not sustainable, it really is not helping them,” Smith said. “Start with small goals that build to larger goals.”

Smith gave some examples as to how to gradually work your way toward eating a healthier diet.

“If the person is not eating any vegetables in a day, a beginning goal should be to add a veggie in with one meal and one snack,” she said. “If a person is not consuming seafood multiple times a week, which contains omega 3’s and is very good for our hearts, aim to have one meal a week that contains fatty fish, like salmon.”

She stressed that slow and steady is the most sustainable approach.

“We can build from there,” Smith said.

More information

About Lauren Smith Nutrition Coaching

Lauren Smith is a registered dietitian from West Chester with a passion for nutrition and helping people achieve their happiest, healthiest and strongest version of themselves. She is an ex-competitive soccer player who understands the importance of taking an individualized approach with each of her clients.

In a world where nutrition can seem so daunting and complicated, Lauren hopes to help clients find joy and fun with food again. Her practice is completely virtual and she works with both adolescents and adults.

Phone: 484- 209-0787

Email: laurensbalancedbites@gmail.com

Instagram: laurensbalancedbites

Heart-healthy dietary pattern

The American Health Association suggests eating an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes:

• A wide variety of fruits and vegetables

• Whole grains and products made up mostly of whole grains

• Healthy sources of protein (mostly plants such as legumes and nuts; fish and seafood; low-fat or nonfat dairy; and, if you eat meat and poultry, ensuring it is lean and unprocessed)

• Liquid non-tropical vegetable oils

• Minimally processed foods

• Minimized intake of added sugars

• Foods prepared with little or no salt

• Limited or preferably no alcohol intake

Source: The American Heart Association, www.heart.org

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