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Heart Disease Facts
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Nutrition and Lifeskills for Missouri Families
By: Tricia Fleming, University of Kansas Dietetic Intern,
Tammy Beason, MS, RD, Nutrition Education Specialist,
Candance Gabel, MS, RD, LD Associate State Nutrition Specialist, Family Nutrition Education Program

What is heart disease?

The term heart disease is a general term that covers a number of diseases, which affect the heart. This includes coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure and angina.

What causes heart disease?

Many lifestyle factors contribute such as cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, physical inactivity, and obesity. Serum cholesterol and hypertension play a major role the formation of heart disease.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

There are two categories of risk factors for heart disease those that can be changed and those that can't be changed. 

Changeable risk factors include: 

  • Hypertension 
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Obesity 
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Physical inactivity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Alcohol intake

Unchangeable risk factors include:

  • Age, the older you get the greater your risk
  • Sex, men are at higher risk than women
  • Race
  • Family history
  • Personal medical history

The facts on fat:

Cholesterol is not all bad. It is needed in the body as a component of nerve tissue and the spinal cord. Cholesterol needs to be controlled because it is a major component of the plaque that clogs arteries. There are several types of cholesterol. The two you will hear about the most are HDL and LDL. HDL is know as "High Density Lipoprotein", it does not tend to clog arteries and actually helps carry some of the bad cholesterol out of the body. So it is considered the "good" cholesterol. LDL is known as "Low Density Lipoprotein" and is considered to be the "bad" cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol that is known to clog arteries and cause heart disease.

There are several types of fat, and they play an important role in the body. Some fats have a negative effect on cholesterol and should be avoided to follow a heart healthy diet. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature they raise LDL levels, polyunsaturated fats consist of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids lower cholesterol while Omega 6 fatty acids can increase your risk of heart disease. Omega 3 is found in fish, canola oil, walnuts and flaxseed. Omega 6 is found in vegetable oils. Monounsaturated fats decrease cholesterol and lower LDL levels. Tans fatty acids are unsaturated fats but they tend to raise cholesterol and should be avoided.

The basis of a heart healthy diet:

There are several guidelines listed by the American Heart Association, they include:

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Eat a variety of grain products
  • Choose fats with 2 grams or less of saturated fats per serving
  • Balance the number of calories you eat with the number of calories you use each day
  • Maintain a level of physical activity that keeps you fit
  • Limit your intake of foods high in calories and low in nutrients
  • Eat less than 6 grams of sodium a day
  • Have no more than one alcoholic drink a day
  • Increase intake of monounsaturated fat, omega 3 fatty acids and soluble fiber

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Other Diet and Disease Educational Support Materials:
Cancer  Diabetes  Heart Disease  Hypertension 
Osteoporosis  Phytochemicals


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last updated: 10/27/08
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