National Heart Month |

National Heart Month

February is National Heart Month and to kick it off, I'd like to offer some nutritional advice to help keep your heart beating healthfully for a really long time.

The best tool I know to help choose healthy foods is the Nutrition Facts Panel that's on the label of nearly every food we eat. If you have one handy, I recommend you take a look at it while you're reading this article.

Starting at the top, you'll see the recommended serving size for that food. The first step towards a healthy heart is moderation. The information on the rest of the label is based off the quantity at the top. If you're not sure exactly how much it is, I suggest you get the appropriate measuring device (cup, spoon or a scale) to make sure you're getting the right amount. Something a lot of people don't notice is the Servings Per Container. Don't assume that the container is only one serving. If you eat the whole package, you might want to check for this information. You could be eating a lot more at one time than you think.

Next you'll find calories under the Amount Per Serving heading. This tells you how much energy you'll be consuming. Double this number if you're planning on eating more than one serving. Or cut it down if you're going to share with someone else.

The next section to focus on is the Total Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium. This is where you can decide how this food will impact your heart the most. The total fat is broken down into saturated fat and trans fat, both of which have been linked to increasing bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol. You may notice that if you add the grams of saturated fat and trans fat together, they may not equal the amount of total fat. This is because polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are not required to be listed on the label. These two fats are more heart friendly. Some food manufacturers will list these fats on their Nutrition Facts label to help guide consumers towards their products.

Cholesterol is listed below the fats. While dietary cholesterol is not as big a contributor to heart disease as the fats noted above, I recommend keeping an eye on the amount. The current dietary guidelines suggest we eat as little as possible. Foods that are high in cholesterol are often high in saturated fats as well.

Finally, check out the sodium content on the label. The easiest way to use this tool is to look at the percentage of daily sodium in the food. The best guideline is to remember that 5 percent or less is considered low in sodium and would be a good choice for your heart. A number of 20 percent or more is considered to be high in sodium and is a good food to consider eating a smaller portion of or eating less often. As most people know, sodium intake is linked to increased blood pressure, As a culture we are overexposed to sodium on a daily basis. A food doesn't have to taste salty to have a lot of sodium in it. How to find out? Check the label!

Mary Koch is a clinical dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and consultant for Pershing General Hospital. Questions may be sent to Mary at