Live Well Polk

Editor’s note: this column provided by Polk Medical Center is meant for informational purposes only.

You are a month into the new year and, hopefully, a month into a healthier lifestyle. If you haven’t yet gotten out of the starting blocks, that’s OK too. There is no need to throw in the towel. Today is a great day to change your life for the better.

One sure way to do that is to establish a healthy diet. We aren’t talking about the kind of diet where you restrict food you eat, just to achieve some short-term goal.

No, we are talking about a lifelong change that helps you achieve that immediate goal, reach new ones that you hadn’t dared to think about, and best of all, maintain those goals for a lifetime. There’s nothing better you could do for your heart. And, chances are, your heart could use the love.

Polk County has the highest rate of deaths caused by coronary heart disease in the six county region that also includes Bartow, Chattooga, Floyd, Gordon and Cherokee County, Alabama. A significant contributor to that frightening statistic is that Polk also has the second highest rate for obesity.

If we can take care of the latter, chances are, the former will improve right along with it.

If the problem is that you just don’t know where to start, we want to help. The key is reducing the amount of high-fat, high-calorie foods that you take in. That may seem daunting, but the reward is worth the effort.

These steps can help you get started:

Eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables every day. Produce is full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other essential nutrients. And produce is practically free of fat and cholesterol.

Cut back on high-fat foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fat and saturated fat. Use liquid vegetable oils in place of soft or hard margarine or shortening. Limit cheese, butter, ice cream processed and fatty meats, cakes, cookies, pastries, muffins, pies, and doughnuts.

Add more seafood to your diet. A great guideline is to eat fish at least two times a week, particularly fish like salmon, trout, and herring. All of these contain omega-3 fatty acids. They may help lower your risk for death from coronary artery disease.

Read and compare food labels. To make the best use of food labels, first look at how many servings the package contains. Then look at the calories and fat per serving. Multiply the calories and fat by the number of servings you’re going to eat.

Drink more water. Limiting sugary beverages like soda and juice with added sugar will benefit your heart and your waistline.

If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit your intake. Alcohol is high in calories. Limit intake to 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men.

Prepare foods with little or no added salt.

Prepare properly. After you buy nutritious foods, make sure you prepare them in a healthy manner. Grill fish and chicken instead of frying it.

Finally, watch food portion size. If you do, you will also watch your health improve.

Following these guidelines can reduce bad cholesterol levels and decrease your risk of developing heart disease. And, you don’t have to give up tasty foods. The American Heart Association offers some great tasting heart healthy recipes at recipes.heart.org.

If you are already on this path, keep up the good work. If you haven’t yet started, there’s no better day than today. We don’t want you to just live; we want you to live well.

Sharon Hogue is Polk Medical Center’s Director of Infection Prevention and Employee Health.