Do You Know the Numbers that Can Help You Prevent Heart Disease?

Here are 5 numbers that can save your life! If any of these numbers indicate that you’re at high risk for heart attack, take action! Even small changes can go a long way to help prevent heart disease.

5 Numbers to Know to Prevent Heart Disease Text Image

First a few statistics:

Heart disease is the number 1 killer of people with diabetes.

Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women.

Heart disease is the number 1 killer of men.

Heart disease is the number 1 killer of African Americans, Hispanics and whites living in the United States.

It’s not unusual or surprising to fear cancer, HIV, ebola, flying and a whole lot of other things, but heart disease is still the number 1 killer in the US. No matter what else we worry about, we can’t afford to ignore the heart. It breaks my heart when people tell me that they avoid heart-healthy foods like fruits and whole grains because they’re watching their blood sugar levels. Or that they don’t exercise because of osteoarthritis.

Please talk to your healthcare provider to discuss your risk for heart disease and work with a registered dietitian nutritionist to help craft your personalized eating and lifestyle plan. Together you can help prevent heart disease.

strawberry: a healthy fruit

Fruits and vegetables, like strawberries, are a critical part of a heart-healthy diet.

5 Numbers to Know to Save Your Heart

Age, gender, family history, smoking, kidney disease, diabetes and so many any things affect your risk for heart disease. Obviously, you have control over some risk factors, but not others. The American Heart Association has a basic outline of risk factors. The National Heart, Lung, and blood Institute also has good information about how to prevent heart disease.

Here are 5 numbers you should know. Talk to your healthcare provider about these numbers and about how to prevent heart disease.

Blood Pressure: 1/3 of American adults has high blood pressure (aka hypertension). Most people with diabetes have it. About 20% of people with high blood pressure don’t know they have it. Equally disturbing is that 53% of people with high blood pressure do not have it under control.

  • According to the American Heart Association, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. So high blood pressure is 120/80 and above. If either number is elevated, you have high blood pressure.
  • Blood-pressure lowering foods: For sure, cut back on alcohol, sodium and saturated fat. Add foods with potassium (such as baked white and sweet potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, salmon, dry beans like Great Northern beans, bananas, spinach, peaches, cantaloupe, and many other fruits and vegetables) magnesium (such as nuts, pumpkin seeds, dry beans, spinach, whole grains) and calcium (such as yogurt, low-fat milk). Check out the DASH diet for a detailed blood pressure-lowering eating plan. And don’t forget to keep moving! Exercise is important.
heart-healthy apple and cut apple

This favorite and familiar fruit is a nutrient powerhouse. One of it’s phytonutrients – quercetin – is linked to less risk of stroke.

Low-Density-Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol: Sometimes this is called the bad cholesterol. More than 1/3 of adults in the US have LDL-cholesterol levels in the high risk category.

  • Until recently, doctors gave us target levels for LDL-cholesterol. Today, however, instead of setting targets, they assign risk for heart disease based on LDL-cholesterol levels. In general, having an LDL-cholesterol level 100 mg/dl is a risk factor for heart disease.
  • LDL-lowering foods: Again, cut back on saturated fats. Add foods with viscous fibers such as dry beans, oats, barley and citrus fruits.

High-Density-Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol: Sometimes this is called the good cholesterol. More than 18% of Americans have HDL levels in the high risk category.

  • Similar to LDL-cholesterol levels, HDL levels are used to assign risk for heart disease. Ask your healthcare provider about your risk. Some organizations assign high risk status to men with HDL-cholesterol levels 40 mg/dl and to women with levels 50 mg/dl.
  • HDL levels can be tough to move. Most importantly, don’t smoke! Be active. Eat foods with more unsaturated fats like olive and canola oils, avocados and nuts and cut back on foods with saturated fats like coconut oil, butter, and fatty meats.
a bowl of the best nuts

Nuts give us a bunch of yum and crunch as well as unsaturated fats, and a host of nutrients and phytonutrients. Learn more about the health benefits of nuts in What’s the Best Nut.

Triglycerides: About 1/4 of adults in the US have high triglycerides. This lipid is not a type of cholesterol, but it’s measured with the same blood sample. Often people with high triglycerides also have low HDL-levels and elevated blood sugar levels.

  • In general, fasting triglycerides should fall below 150 mg/dl. Some recommendations now suggest that 100 mg/dl confers even less risk for heart disease.
  • To lower triglycerides, limit alcohol intake and added sugars. Get some exercise, of course. If your blood sugar is high, work with your healthcare team to manage it. Your triglycerides will likely improve as your blood sugar is better managed.
Easy healthy wasabi salmon with sauce

Salmon is a heart-healthy food, in part, because of its omega-3 fatty acids. I think you’ll like my Wasabi Salmon recipe. Aim to eat seafood at least two times per week.

Blood sugar: More than 1/3 of American adults have blood sugar levels in the prediabetes or diabetes range.

  • People with diabetes have at least twice the risk of heart disease as people without diabetes. People with prediabetes also have greater risk. Here is how the disorders are defined.
TestPrediabetesDiabetes
Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG)100 - 125 mg/dl> 126 mg/dl
2-hour OGTT (oral glucose tolerance test)140 - 199 mg/dl> 200 mg/dl
Random plasma glucose in an individual with symptoms of diabetes such as excessive thirst and urinationNot done to diagnose prediabetes> 200 mg/dl
A1C (an indicator of your average blood glucose level over the past three months)5.7 - 6.4 %> 6.5%
heart healthy breakfast of oats and apples with walnuts and cinnamon

Here are several heart-healthy and diabetes-friendly foods: apples, oats, lentils, walnuts and cinnamon. YUM! Try Creamy Oats and Lentils with Sweetly Spiced Apples.

It’s not enough to merely know your numbers and steps that can help prevent heart disease. You also need to know the symptoms of heart attack and stroke. I sure don’t want you searching the Internet for symptoms at the time you need to know them most. Keep in mind that heart attack symptoms are not always what they look like on TV. They might include chest pain, jaw pain, nausea, shortness of breath and more. The American Heart Association has a nice chart and additional information.

Jill-Weisenberger_about-image-2
Jill Weisenberger

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.

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