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Magnified picture of a food label

Reading food labels can help you make wise choices.

Image credit: jpalinsad360 licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Nashville, Ark. –

What are some ways I can keep my heart healthy?

Coronary heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. Coronary heart disease is caused by narrowing of the arteries that feed the heart. When arteries become narrowed or clogged by fat and cholesterol, they cannot supply enough blood to the heart. This can result in chest pain and, if totally blocked, a heart attack. A person with coronary heart disease has a much higher risk of having a heart attack than someone without heart disease. February is national heart healthy month. There are some easy steps you can follow to keep your heart healthy not only during February, but all year long.

What should my blood cholesterol level be?

            Begin by knowing your blood cholesterol level. It is important to know these numbers because lowering cholesterol levels that are too high reduces the risk of developing heart disease. You can find out your cholesterol numbers by having a lipoprotein profile test. Total cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dL. HDL cholesterol protects against heart disease. HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or more help lower your risk for heart disease. A level of less than 40mg/dL is considered a major risk factor for heart disease. High levels of triglycerides in your blood can also raise heart disease risk. Triglycerides may be high if you eat too much fat and/or sugar and drink too much alcohol. Levels that are borderline high (150-199 mg/dL) or higher may need treatment.

Does my diet effect my blood cholesterol level?

            Diet is one of the things that effects blood cholesterol. Saturated fat and cholesterol in the food you eat can make your blood cholesterol go up. Saturated fat has the biggest effect, but dietary cholesterol also matters. Changing the diet is usually the first step in treating high cholesterol. Other strategies include quitting smoking if you smoke, losing weight if you are overweight, getting regular physical activity, and medication.

What are some easy changes I can make to follow a heart-healthy diet?

  • Choose foods low in saturated fat. Saturated fats are found mainly in animal foods and tropical oils.
  • Choose food low in total fat. Read food nutrition labels to find foods low in total fat.
  • Select foods low in cholesterol. Cholesterol is found only in animal foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy foods.
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are low in fat, cholesterol-free, high in several vitamins and minerals and they provide fiber.
  • Choose low fat or fat-free milk and yogurt and reduced-fat cheeses. These foods provide important nutrients, including calcium, but contain less fat and saturated fat than higher-fat dairy foods.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and trim any visible fat and skin from poultry before cooking.
  • Bake, roast, boil, or broil rather than fry. These methods do not add fat to the food.
  • Choose fats and oils with high percentages of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats such as olive, canola, safflower, soybean, and sunflower. Use margarines with liquid oil listed first in the ingredient list.
  • Use fat-free or reduced-fat salad dressings and sandwich spreads.
  • Use less salt and sodium. Too much sodium can affect blood pressure in some people.
  • Season foods with herbs, spices, and other flavorings such as lemon or lime juice and wine.
  • Read food labels. Look for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium content. Select foods with low Daily Value (DV) percentages for these nutrients. Look for foods with high percentages of DV for fiber.

For more on heart healthy eating, contact the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517 and ask for a copy of MyPlate. This is a comprehensive guide to eating healthy.

Chicken Marsala Recipe

            Here is a great recipe for you to try this Valentine’s Day. It is easy to prepare and is impressive. This recipe is from the Mediterranean Diet Cooking School recipes. If you are interested in learning more about the Mediterranean Diet or participating in a cooking school, contact the Extension office.

  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 4 (5 ounces total) chicken breasts, boned, skinless
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup Marsala wine
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ½ lemon, juice only
  • ½ cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  1. Mix together pepper, salt, and flour.
  2. Coat chicken with seasoned flour.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat oil.
  4. Place chicken breasts in skillet and brown on both sides, then remove and set aside.
  5. To skillet, add wine and stir until heated.
  6. Add juice, stock, and mushrooms.
  7. Stir, reduce heat, and cook for about 10 minutes, until sauce is partially reduced.
  8. Return browned chicken breasts to skillet.
  9. Spoon sauce over chicken.
  10. Cover and cook for about 5 – 10 minutes or until chicken is done.
  11. Serve sauce over chicken. Garnish with chopped parsley.
  12. Makes 4 servings (1 chicken with 1/3 cup sauce)

Tip: Serve with whole wheat fettuccini noodles.

Nutrition Information per Serving: 285 calories, 33 g. protein, 8 g. fat, 2 g. saturated fat, 85 mg. cholesterol, 11 g. carbohydrates, 1 g. fiber, 236 mg. sodium, 348 mg. potassium

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517

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