Simple Ways to Cut Back on Salt

By Sarah Holland

As a registered dietitian on a cardiology unit, a big part of my job is educating patients on how to follow a low-sodium, heart-healthy diet. It’s important to note that a low-sodium diet is not just recommended for those with heart disease, but is for everyone.

The American Heart Association published new guidelines this year stating that all Americans need to limit their sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day. Too much sodium, or salt, can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke. High blood pressure is already a major public health problem, with 90 percent of American adults expected to develop it in their lifetime. This is no surprise since the average adult consumes about 3,000 mg of sodium per day, more than twice the new recommendation.

Salt has a variety of roles in food, so oftentimes it can be hard to avoid. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started: Continue reading

Older Adult Class Helps Retired Teacher ‘Take Charge’

Carol Wojtalik

By Dana Bright

For over four years now, Older Adult Programs at Rush has offered “Take Charge of Your Health,” an educational workshop for adults and older adults living with ongoing, chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma and high blood pressure.

During six weekly interactive sessions with trained facilitators, participants come together with others going through similar experiences to learn skills and information aimed at helping them become more confident and in control of managing their health conditions and overall health as a whole. Every so often, we have a participant who shows such enthusiasm for the program and comfort with the material that we ask her/him to go on to become a trained workshop facilitator.

Several years ago, we had the great fortune to meet such a person, Carol Wojtalik. The program had a significant impact on Carol’s life as a participant, and she has gone on to become one of our most active, dedicated facilitators. We recently asked Carol to reflect back on her experience.

Here’s her story:

Where do I begin? I had just retired from a 35-year teaching career and was waiting for an epiphany. It came in an unusual form. I received a letter from Rush Generations inviting me to participate in a program called “Take Charge of Your Health.” My primary care doctor had suggested that I would be interested. Needless to say, my curiosity for learning made me sign up for the program. Continue reading

African Americans More Vulnerable to Heart Problems

By Richard Olstein, MD

Despite all the advances the medical community has made in the treatment of coronary heart disease, preventing the occurrence of heart attacks, strokes and other forms of vascular disease remains essential to our fight against this No. 1 killer in America. In this fight, a portion of our community remains particularly susceptible — African Americans.

African Americans have a higher chance of death if they suffer a heart attack compared to Caucasians. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2007, African American men were 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease compared to Caucasians. The explanations for this disparity have not been discovered. What’s clear is that preventing heart disease is one’s best chance of living a longer and healthier life. The only way to prevent heart disease is to control or prevent the classic risk factors.  These controllable risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is nearly 1.5 times more common in the African American population. In addition to leading to heart attacks and strokes, hypertension increases your chance of developing heart failure, kidney failure and vision loss. The goal is to reduce your blood pressure to less than 140/90 mmHg. This can sometimes be accomplished with a low salt/sodium diet and exercise, but often requires medications. Medications that are often particularly effective in African Americans include diuretics, or “water pills,” and calcium channel blockers. Continue reading

Tips for Maintaining a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

Cassie Vanderwall, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at Rush and a certified personal trainer. Here are some of her suggestions for maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Why is a heart-healthy lifestyle good for everyone?

Good nutrition and exercise significantly reduces your risk — by 50 percent — of heart disease and stroke, which remains the No. 1 killer of Americans. The Diet and Lifestyle Goals for Cardiovascular Disease Risk Reduction, published by the American Heart Association, are proven lifestyle changes to promote heart health, which leads to lower total and LDL cholesterol levels, decreased triglycerides, reduced blood pressure and blood glucose control.

What does a heart-healthy meal plan include?

Heart-healthy eating includes everything, in moderation. This style of eating focuses on foods that are lower in sodium, healthier fats and proper portion sizes.

What types of fat should I consume on a daily basis?

Heart-healthy fats are those that are fluid at room temperature, such as olive oil, fish oil, and the oils from nuts and seeds. Fats that are solid at room temperature are called saturated fats, and they are known to increase LDL cholesterol and promote cardiovascular disease. If saturated fat is bad, then trans fat is worse. Trans fats have been found to both increase “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and decrease “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

What are omega 3 fatty acids?

Omega 3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that are found in fish oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil and many other nuts and seeds. This type of fat has been shown to decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, decrease the risk of arrhythmias and decrease the growth of arterial plaque. Eating fatty fish — such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon — two times per week will meet this recommendation. Continue reading