Heart Healthy Valentine

During the month of February, the American Heart Association (AHA) promotes awareness for the number one killer of woman, heart disease, which kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.  While the annual Red Dress Fashion Show happened last week (more on that below) and the national Wear Red day was last Friday, being that today is Valentine's Day, I found it appropriate to talk about how we as women can protect our heart and better love ourselves. (You too men!)

Every year, the American Heart Association has athletes, media personalities and entertainers walk their annual Red Dress Fashion show event in New York City, which kicks off New York Fashion Week each February.  This year, 18 women including Olympians Sasha Cohen and Lindsey Vonn, actors Jill Hennessy and Bella Thorne and media personalities Daphne Oz and Alicia Quarles wore gorgeous dresses from the likes of Zac Posen, Alice + Olivia, Oscar de la Renta and Carmen Marc Valvo. As each women took to the runway, an up-beat song played and their reason for going "Heart Healthy" was displayed on the screen behind them.  It's always a fun, festive and inspiring event, where women who are heart disease survivors can be seen throughout the crowd rocking their own red dress in a show of support for the cause.

43 million women are affected by heart disease. 200,000 cases result in death each year, 25% of which the CDC estimates, are preventable.  The term "heart disease" is often used interchangeably with "cardiovascular disease," which generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke.  Most doctors would agree that many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices and/or changes.

A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, found that excess sugar is a contributing factor in cardiovascular disease and may DOUBLE the risk of dying from heart disease.  Excess sugar is defined as anything above the daily recommended amount of 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men.  Natural sugar, such as that found in fruits, does not count towards your daily intake, but added sugar, also known by names like high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave, evaporated cane juice or fruit juice concentrates does count towards your added sugar intake. When you eat fruit, you ingest the fiber from the food which helps to slow down the rate at which the natural sugars enter your body -- this is not the case for fruit juice (read this article on orange juice -- nutritionally, it's not much better than soda. Yikes!).

According to the AHA, the major sources of added sugars are regular soft drinks, sugars, candy, cakes, cookies, pies and fruit flavored drinks (fruitades and fruit punch); dairy desserts and milk products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk); and other grains (cinnamon toast and honey-nut waffles). Check the sides of your prepared and processed foods where sugar often hides (tomato sauce, ketchup, cereal, salad dressing) -- Just one 12-ounce can of regular soda contains eight teaspoons of sugar, 130 calories and zero nutrition. Think "low fat" or "Fat free" is a better option? Not when it comes to sugar.  Check the sugar content on those products - the fat has been removed but the companies have to make the product enjoyable, so they increase the amount of sugar (and/or sodium) so the consumer won't notice the missing fat.

Want ways to cut down, back or out sugar? Here ya go:

  • Cut out soda. If you must, have it as an occasional treat, NOT a daily beverage. Buy sugar-free or low-calorie beverages. 
  • Buy fresh fruits. If you must buy canned fruits, make sure they're packed in water or natural juice. Avoid fruit canned in syrup, especially heavy syrup.
  • Add fresh fruit (try bananas, cherries or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, cranberries or apricots) to cereal or oatmeal instead of sugar. .
  • When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half -- you won’t notice the difference.
  • Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts such as almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
  • Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar; try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar in recipes (use equal amounts).

Small changes, over time, add up to big results.  Sugar is addictive, some research has found it more addicting than cocaine, and it's tough to quit overnight.  Cut back and be mindful of how much is taken in throughout the day.  Remember, no one needs sugar to survive. (If you have children, you'll want to read this article about the health issues an obese child will have, even if they lose weight in adulthood).

Happy Valentine's Day everyone and if you're on the East Coast, stay warm!