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February 4, 2009 > How Do You Lower Your Heart Disease Risk?

How Do You Lower Your Heart Disease Risk?

Evening Women's Center Lecture Highlights Heart-Healthy Foods

Do you think it's too early to start thinking about heart health? Think again. The truth is that artery-clogging plaque can start to build up earlier than most people think.

Heart disease represents the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. And a good first step toward protecting your heart is taking a good look at the foods your family eats on a daily basis.

On Tuesday, February 10, as part of the Washington Women's Center's Evening Lecture Series, a registered dietitian will be presenting a food demonstration focused on heart healthy eating.

"Women are often in charge of a household's meal planning," according to Washington Hospital clinical registered dietitian Anna Mazzei, R.D. "When we talk about heart health, usually the focus is on what to avoid. During this demonstration, I'm also going to talk about what to include in your diet and the role these foods play in preventing heart disease."

Mazzei points out that making your diet more heart friendly is not an overnight process. The first thing to focus on is cutting back on cholesterol and the types of fats that increase the risk of heart disease, including trans-fats and saturated fats. Begin by checking Nutrition Facts - on food labels at the store for information about items' fat and cholesterol content.

Another good step, Mazzei says, is to gradually introduce more meatless meals into your family's diet. But that's not the whole story.


Dietary additions to lower your risk of heart disease

"We're going to look at recipes that have a minimal amount of saturated fats, but we'll also look at what we can add to the diet to lower risk for heart disease," Mazzei says.

Some of these healthy additions include:
* Seafood, which contains omega-3 fatty acids
* Foods high in fiber and whole grain
* Bean products such as tofu

But how do you incorporate more of these foods if you either don't like them or are not used to cooking with them?

"I know some people don't like fish," Mazzei says. "The question is how can you make fish more palatable and how you can get those same essential nutrients if you don't like seafood? I'll spend some time talking about other options, including integrating the appropriate portion of nuts into your diet."

Mazzei says she's not a big fan of fish herself, but that creative preparation helps make some items more palatable that they might have seemed by themselves. During a recent demonstration she made salmon patties that came out very well.

"I would have them again, which is saying a lot for someone who's not a big fan of fish," she adds.


Healthy tips in a comfortable environment

For the Evening Lecture Series, Mazzei says there is usually a comfortable group of 15 women.

"It's a nice atmosphere where the audience participates. I bring in my electric skillets and we talk about the preparation itself as well as the health benefits of the foods."

By eating a diet lower fat, it's possible to effectively change your heart disease profile and lower your risk for things like heart attack and stroke. But Mazzei says she will spend most of the time talking about what to add to a heart healthy diet.

"The reason why I want to talk about the things to include in the diet is because these days most people know about saturated fats and trans-fats and not exceeding cholesterol," Mazzei says. "And it's not just about low cholesterol. There are a number of things - a bigger picture - of how you can protect your heart. The main thing is to reduce saturated fat. What I'm going to talk about is making your cholesterol profile more ideal by implementing a diet that can get you the best lipid profile you can have by increasing HDL, known as the healthy cholesterol, and lowering bad cholesterol, LDL."


Start making changes now

Women of all ages can benefit from a heart healthy diet. And the earlier you begin making lifestyle changes, the easier it is.

"It gets harder to change your diet and lifestyle when you're older," Mazzei says. "Menopause is not the ideal time to start trying to make changes. In reality, women are not free of building up plaque in the arteries before that time."

Mazzei, who is planning to focus her recipes on fish, tofu, beans, barley - and a dessert with chocolate, says she will also address the issue of "too much" of a good thing.

"Like anything else, there's always the fear of too much of certain things," according to Mazzei. "When looking at non-meat meals with items such as beans, lentils and tofu, I will talk about the health benefits and concerns we might have with soy products."


Learn more at night

The Evening Lecture Series for Women - covering topics from heart health to headaches - takes place once a month on Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Washington Women's Center, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

Mazzei's Heart Health food preparation will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 10.
For more information about upcoming Women's Center seminars and programs, call (866) 608-1301 or (510) 608-1301 or visit www.whhs.com, click on "Services & Programs," select "Women's Health" and choose "Wellness Classes & Services" from the drop-down menu.


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