This month I want to discuss one of the chronic diseases associated with overweight/obesity– Heart Disease. The month of February is designated “American Heart Month.”

Coronary heart disease is one of several cardiovascular diseases that can lead to a heart attack. Heart attack occur when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart. Other cardiovascular diseases include stroke, high blood pressure, angina (chest pain), and rheumatic heart disease.

Heart Disease Facts: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in America with a 610,000 annual mortality rate, which is 1 in every 4 deaths. Every 42 seconds someone experiences a heart attack and every 60 seconds someone dies from a heart disease related illness. The cost of treating heart disease related illnesses, which includes healthcare services, medications, and loss of productivity in United States, is about $207 billion each year.

Bringing it Home: In Mississippi, heart disease is the number 1 cause of death, while strokes are number 5. More than 700,000 Mississippi adults have high blood pressure (hypertension), and thousands more may be at risk. High blood pressure increases a person's risk of heart disease and stroke, which are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. High blood pressure can also lead to kidney disease, blindness and mental impairment.

Mississippi's cardiovascular disease death rate remains the highest in the nation (American Heart Association, 2010). In 2011, Claiborne County ranked number 2 for the highest death rate from cardiovascular disease. (https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/43, 0,297.html) (Accessed: January 20, 2017).

Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • High LDL/"bad" cholesterol (greater than 100 mg/dl)
  • High triglycerides (greater than 150 mg/dl)
  • Low HDL/"good" cholesterol (less than 60 mg/dl)
  • High blood pressure (greater than 120/80)
  • Body Mass Index greater than 25

Nutritional Management of Heart Disease: Most chronic diseases that plague mankind can be prevented or the progression slowed down from what we eat and other lifestyle choices.

Smart Food Choices: Eating more plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, which are low in calorie and high in fiber and antioxidants, can help keep blood pressure in check. Fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of potassium, a mineral that has been shown to lower blood pressure in clinical studies. The daily recommended amount of potassium for good blood pressure is 4,700 milligrams for adults. However, women who are nursing over the age of 14 need 5,100 milligrams daily. This amount can be achieved by daily intake of at least 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables such as: tomatoes, leafy greens, potatoes, bananas and squash.

Heart Friendly Fat

Though the body needs fat to strive, the amount and kind of fat that we eat makes a difference. Fat in our diet should account for 20 percent to 35 percent of the total calories, with only 10 percent coming from unhealthy, saturated fat. Research has shown that eating too much saturated fat from foods like bacon, red meat, butter, ice cream and other trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils is not good for the heart. These kinds of fats can cause blockage in the arteries and raise cholesterol levels. Trans fats are fats found in processed commercial baked goods and fried foods. The kind of fats contained in olive oil, canola oil, avocadoes, walnuts, almonds, and Flaxseeds contain unsaturated fat, and help cholesterol levels by raising "good" HDL cholesterol and lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol. These foods can be eaten and enjoyed in moderation.

Omega-3 fatty-acids, found in marine fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring, have been found to be helpful in preventing sudden death from heart attacks. The recommended intake for omega-3 fatty acids is 500 milligrams per day. Recommended servings to achieve omega-3 fatty-acids in a week is eating 6 ounce servings of fatty fish 2 times per week, and 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed or 1 ounce (about a handful) of walnuts each day for a healthy heart.

Slow and steady wins the race for a heart health

Since achieving a healthy heart is a life long journey, approach it gradually and joyfully. For the best heart health, waist circumference should measure no more than 40 inches for men, and 35 inches for women. Most days of the week, aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of regular, aerobic exercise. Simple activities such as walking, jogging, biking, dancing and strength training, like weightlifting at least two to three times per week are great for heart health. Try reducing 500 calories from the daily caloric intake, lower salt intake to 1 teaspoon daily or ¾ teaspoon if you have high blood pressure. Reduce the amount of intake of processed foods which are high in salt, lower fat intake, lower sugar intake, increase fruits and vegetable intake. Aim for gradual 5- to 10-percent drop in weight, for optimum heart health.

My Alcorn family, let us all toast to a healthy heart. Hip, Hip hurrah!!!

Written by:

Edith Ezekwe, MS, RD, LD, MT (ASCP)

Instructor/ Practicum Coordinator

Nutrition and Dietetics

Department of Human Sciences


Cunningham, Eleese, Heart Health Tips for Men, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic, January 13, 2015, retrieved from:

https://www.eatright.org/resource/health/wellness/heart-and-cardiovascular-health/heart-health-for-men (Accessed January 20, 2017)

MSDH data, https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/43,0,297.html) (Accessed January 20, 2017)

American Heart Association (2010), retrieved from:


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