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The 25 Rule: Easy Ways to Help Your Heart

A leading Cardiologist from Los Angeles, Dr. "Rico" explains the easiest ways to improve your cardiac health with what he calls "The 25 Rule."

The Doctor says it's time to make improvements in your heart health, but where do you start?

Lifestyle and diet modifications for heart health can often feel overwhelming, but Dr. Rico says "Start with the small stuff." When it comes to making changes to improve your health, even the most minimal day-to-day changes can add up to big results. Dr. Rico's "25 Rule" makes it easy to know where to begin...

#1 Limit Your Daily Sugar to 25 grams or less

Why should you limit your sugar? Read this from Harvard Publishing...

In a study published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Hu and his colleagues found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. Over the course of the 15-year study, people who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar.

"Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease," says Dr. Hu.

How sugar actually affects heart health is not completely understood, but it appears to have several indirect connections. For instance, high amounts of sugar overload the liver. "Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat," says Dr. Hu. Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes, which raises your risk for heart disease.

Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. Excess consumption of sugar, especially in sugary beverages, also contributes to weight gain by tricking your body into turning off its appetite-control system because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods. This is why it is easier for people to add more calories to their regular diet when consuming sugary beverages.

"The effects of added sugar intake — higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke," says Dr. Hu.

#2 Limit Your Fat Intake to 25% of Your Daily Diet

Most of us know that eating less fat can help your heart...but what is the best way to do this? Simple changes in your diet can lead to big results.

Here are 14 Simple ways to Reduce Fat in Your Diet:

1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

2. Eat more fish and chicken. Substitute ground turkey or chicken for ground beef. Remove the skin from chicken before cooking.

3. Eat leaner cuts of beef and pork, and trim as much visible fat as possible before cooking.

4. Bake, broil, or grill meats; avoid frying. Avoid breaded meats and vegetables.

5. Use fat-free or reduced-fat milk instead of whole milk. Instead of sour cream, try nonfat plain yogurt or a blend of yogurt and low-fat cottage cheese. Use low-fat cheeses.

6. In recipes, use two egg whites instead of one whole egg.

7. Avoid cream and cheese sauces, or make recipes with low-fat milk and cheese.

8. Instead of chips, snack on pretzels or unbuttered popcorn.

9. Limit hydrogenated fats (shortening, lard) and animal fats (butter, cream) if you can. Use liquid oils, particularly canola, olive, safflower, or sunflower.

10. Read the nutrition labels on all products. Many “fat-free” products are very high in carbohydrates, which can raise your triglyceride levels.

11. Compare the fat content of similar products. Do not be misled by terms like “light” and “lite.”

12. When eating in a restaurant, ask that the sauces and dressings be served on the side.

13. Look for hidden fat. For example, refried beans may contain lard, or breakfast cereals may have significant amounts of fat.

14. Try cooking with herbs, spices, lemon juice, etc., instead of butter or margarine.

#3 Limit Sodium to 2.5 Grams per Day

Our bodies need a little salt for optimal health, however the typical American diet can contain two or three times the amount needed.

Too much salt causes the body to retain water. This increase in fluid in the body increases blood pressure which puts a strain on blood vessels, the heart and kidneys. As a result, people with high blood pressure have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

How to Limit Sodium in Your Diet

Ideally, eating more fresh foods that are prepared at home rather than packaged foods can make a big difference not just in salt consumption but in your overall health. And when cooking at home, use more herbs and spices for flavor and less salt. For recipes and meal plans, there are a lot of free resources you can find online by looking up the DASH Diet.

When buying packaged foods, read the labels and look for lower sodium alternatives. It really doesn’t take long for your tastes to adjust to less salt and you’ll soon find that some foods taste way too salty. Certain foods are known for containing a lot of salt, and unfortunately, they are American favorites: pizza, sandwiches, soup, breads and baked goods, cold cuts, poultry, cheese, and of course condiments and sauces.

People tend to ignore the nutritional labels on condiments, but soy sauce or barbeque sauce, for example, can really blow up your daily sodium intake. There are ways to make some of these salty favorites less salty and more healthy like getting the thin crust pizza with more vegetables, half the cheese and an uncured meat instead of pepperoni. However at the very least, limit your portions of salty foods.

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