Five ways to love your heart

Are you among the nearly 1 in 2 African Americans suffering from heart disease? If not, you’re undoubtedly affected by having a friend or family member who is. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that heart disease is the number one killer of African Americans, and that we have the highest prevalence of most risk factors for heart disease.

But here’s the very good news: the risk factors for heart disease are often reversible with simple actions that you can take. Here are the 5 major risk factors for heart disease, and something you can do about each one:

High cholesterol: A good way to reduce your cholesterol safely and naturally is by eating a high fiber diet. Most people get less than half the daily fiber they need. Beans are a great source of fiber and should be eaten daily. The other great sources are vegetables, fresh fruits and whole grains, like brown rice.

High blood pressure: One tip for normalizing your blood pressure is to eat a high potassium diet. Foods that are high in potassium include avocados, bananas, citrus fruits (especially grapefruit), asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, green peas, potatoes, and squash. Another surprising good source of potassium is coconut water.

Overweight? Maybe you’re not eating enough. Sound crazy? Many people who are overweight skip breakfast and eat 1 or 2 meals all day. If you do that, your body thinks it’s starving and holds on to the fat. A much better habit is to start every day with a healthy breakfast, like old-fashioned oatmeal, and then eat regularly throughout the day. Make sure your meals are heavy in greens, beans and whole grains.

Are you a smoker? You’ve probably been trying to quit. Nicotine addiction is a lot easier to overcome when you flood your brain with the nutrients it needs. That’s why a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and other healthy plant foods which provides a complete range of the vitamins and minerals you need will help you kick the habit.

Diabetes: A study found that increased dietary intake of Vitamin K1 can reduce the risk of diabetes by 50 percent! Foods that are rich sources of vitamin K1 include, raw spinach; raw leaf lettuce; raw kale; raw Swiss chard; raw watercress; raw parsley and cooked broccoli. If you eat a large green salad 1 to 2 times per day (with a healthy salad dressing), you’ll be getting a good dose of this important nutrient.

Food is powerful medicine. So do like your doctor says, and take your medicine.

Drink to your health!

Most of us know we should eat a healthy diet, but we don’t often think much about what we drink. Yet, our choice of beverage is critically important to our health because proper hydration flushes toxins out of our system and keeps our bodies functioning optimally. Here are 4 tips to healthy hydration:

•Drink eight glasses of pure water every day. Up to 75 percent of us are walking around chronically dehydrated, so we clearly need to drink more water. Water boosts your immune system, reduces inflammation, and keeps your body at a healthy pH. By drinking the right amount of water, you will notice so many benefits, such as: a decrease in symptoms of dehydration like fatigue; headaches; back and joint aches; improved regularity; and weight loss. Would it surprise you to know that the average person drinks 10 to 25 percent of his or her daily caloric intake? By replacing sweetened beverages with plain water, you will be on your way to losing unwanted pounds.

•Drink two to three cups of freshly brewed green tea every day. Green tea has powerful disease-fighting antioxidants. Several studies have shown that drinking at least two cups of green tea daily inhibits cancer growth. Specifically, green tea has been shown to reduce the risk of skin, breast, lung, colon, esophageal and bladder cancer. Green tea can also reduce obesity and help to lower LDL cholesterol.

•Avoid sodas. Both regular and diet sodas are bad news. An average 12 oz regular soda contains 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar, and as you may know, sugar is a major culprit in weight gain. Another major problem with soda is their acidity. Your body requires a slightly alkaline pH to perform optimally, and conversely, disease thrives in an acidic environment. Soda also weakens bones and don’t make the mistake of thinking that diet soda is a better choice. Diet soda contains harmful artificial sugars, and, surprisingly, diet soda is now being associated with weight gain instead of weight loss.

•Avoid energy drinks. Caffeine levels in energy drinks range from about 80 milligrams (mg) to more than 500 mg. in a can or bottle, compared to about 100 mg. in an average cup of coffee. This amount of caffeine can cause dangerous increases in heart rate or blood pressure. My advice? Get your energy from eating nutritious foods, eating regularly and getting adequate amount of sleep.

So start your year off with the simple and healthy habit of drinking for good health.

Teresa Fuller M.D., Ph.D. is board-certified in pediatrics and integrative holistic medicine, and she holds a Ph.D. in physiology. She has been a practicing pediatrician in the Maryland area for the past ten years. Dr. Fuller has become a strong advocate for improving the health of her patients and the wider pediatric community.