A Cardiologist’s Tips for Heart-Healthy Living

By Guest Contributor January 25, 2016 14:51

By Courtney Virgilio, M.D., FACC, FASE

Heart-healthy living starts with what we eat, how much we eat, and when we eat it. In order to maintain our health, we need to pay attention to what we’re putting into our bodies, which we call on to function properly so that we can live our lives the way we want to live them.

What We Eat                                       11325757_s heart and stethoscope

The National Dietary Guidelines were just updated in early January 2016 by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.  Of course, there are several “Do’s” and “Don’ts”.

The “Do’s” are: eat more whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats), low fat dairy; if you are a carnivore then eat lean meats, poultry, and seafood; if you’re not a carnivore get your protein in other ways (legumes, nuts, seeds, soy), and eggs are OK but eat as little cholesterol as possible.

Important “Don’ts” include: limiting your added sugars (brown sugar, syrups, high fructose corn syrup, honey, etc.) to less than 10 percent of your daily calories; limiting saturated fats and trans fats (cookies, cakes, solid fats, hydrogenated oils) to less than 10 percent of your daily calories, and limit your sodium intake to less than 2300mg per day.  We know people who eat diets low in animal protein have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

However, a vegetarian diet is not for everyone. If you’re going to eat meat, aim for the lean meats, poultry, and seafood; limiting processed meats (sausage, jerky, lunch meats, etc.) is a good idea too as they typically have more sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar. Diets higher in sodium are linked with higher blood pressure.

Remember that the beverages you drink count too!  If you’re putting it into your body, then it counts. Drinks can have sugars (especially “fruit juices” which may not be 100 percent fruit juice and may have added sugars), calories, dairy, etc. in them. Just because it isn’t a hunk of food that you have to chew, doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. If you’re putting it into your body, it counts!

Along the line of beverages, caffeine is now thought to be OK; no definite links with cancer or dying from cardiovascular disease. So three to five eight-ounce cups of coffee per day with up to 400mg per day of caffeine is OK. Just watch the sugar and the cream that you add to these beverages, since those can add up to more calories than you think.

As for the cocktails, alcohol is OK in moderation. Moderate alcohol consumption is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of spirits. If you don’t drink, don’t start drinking thinking you’re helping yourself with some health benefit since there are many untoward effects of alcohol too (links with cancer, higher blood pressure, societal effects, etc.). If you do enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, drink moderately.

How Much We Eat: Too Much of a Good Thing    8984491_s red heart plate image with knife fork

We are fortunate to have food to eat but overeating is unhealthy and there are links with obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancers. Attention to portion size is key.  The new Dietary Guidelines recommend 2,000 calories per day. Some sources estimate that the average American eats closer to 3,700 calories per day, almost twice what we should consume.

Everyone likes monetary savings in the bank, but calorie savings turn into pounds on our bodies, which turn into health problems, which turn into a poor quality of life and sometimes turn into a shortened quantity of life. Pay attention to portion sizes and avoid overeating.

When We Eat

There are thoughts that smaller, more frequent meals may be healthier than several large meals. We know that breakfast is important to help give your body the energy it needs to get the day’s activities started. We know that eating late at night is unhealthy. Eating your heaviest meal of the day closest to when you are most inactive (sleeping for several hours) is unhealthy and contributes to weight gain.

In conclusion, pay attention to what you eat, how much of it you do eat, and when you’re eating it. Adding exercise to this attention to detail would further your chances of staying healthy and living a longer, happier and healthier life. Even just 10 minutes a day of exercise has benefits. Optimally, it would be at least 30 minutes of exercise five days per week, but the truth is that just about any activity is better than none.

Remember, if you’re new to exercise, start gradually and increase your workload gradually to avoid injury. The last thing you need is a setback on your path to healthier living.


courtney virgilio

Courtney Virgilio, M.D. Cardiologist, Board Certified Medical Director, Mark Twain Heart Center

About the Author

Dr. Courtney Virgilio is Medical Director of Cardiology at Mark Twain Medical Center in San Andreas, California. Dr. Virgilio completed her undergraduate studies at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. She earned her Medical Degree from Loyola Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, IL. She completed her Internal Medicine Residency at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. She completed her Cardiology Fellowship at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis, MO. Dr. Virgilio also studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain during college and did a medical mission trip to El Progreso, Honduras during medical school.

Dr. Virgilio’s advanced training includes specializing in Cardiovascular Disease and Cardiac Imaging. Her Board Certifications include Cardiovascular Disease (American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine), Internal Medicine (American Board of Internal Medicine), Echocardiography (National Board of Echocardiography), Nuclear Cardiology (Certification Board of Nuclear Cardiology), and she is a Registered Physician in Vascular Interpretation (RPVI; from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography). She is experienced in Cardiac Computed Tomography as well.
For more information, visit online at marktwainmedical/services/heart-care.


By Guest Contributor January 25, 2016 14:51
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