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Show Your Love with a Heart-Healthy Dinner

Cook up our healthy (and romantic!) dinner for that special someone
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Valentine's Day and American Heart Month make February the month we celebrate sweethearts. What a perfect time to show your main squeeze how much you adore him or her by preparing a meal laden with heart-healthy foods.

Heart disease is a dangerous and silent killer -- and, contrary to what you may have heard, it's not a problem for men alone. For most people, heart disease is preventable. One of the most effective ways to prevent heart disease is through diet. (Of course, not smoking, exercising regularly, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check are also important in keeping heart disease at bay.)

Quite simply, some foods can promote good heart health. These "superfoods" contain a wealth of disease-fighting, health-protecting nutrients that taste good and are good for you. Eat them often, share them with your loved ones, and you will be doing your part for a healthier heart:

  • Soluble fiber, from beans, oatmeal, apples, pears, peanuts, lentils, and whole grains, can lower "bad" cholesterol and reduce your heart disease risk. In addition, soluble fiber helps you control fluctuations in blood sugar. Bulky sources of soluble fiber, like oats and beans, can also help keep you feeling full longer and ultimately aid in weight loss.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are newcomers to the diet world. They are rich sources of plant sterols, which interfere with cholesterol absorption, thus lowering blood cholesterol levels. Excellent sources include salmon, nuts, flaxseed, canola oil, soybeans, wheat germ, and spinach. Special margarines such as Benecol and Take Charge are also good sources of plant sterols.
  • Monounsaturated fats help lower your heart disease risk by cutting blood cholesterol levels. Choose foods like olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds instead of saturated or trans fats, which are more likely to increase cholesterol levels.
  • Whole fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and contain virtually no fat and very few calories. These foods should be the foundation of any heart-healthy diet.
  • Folate reduces blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can increase your risk of heart disease. Surveys have shown that men whose diets are rich in folate have fewer strokes. Recent research recommends a diet rich in folate sources such as fruits, vegetables, leafy green vegetables, beans, lentils, and fortified grains.
  • Nuts can help prevent heart disease, according to recent research. In fact, eating a handful two to three times per week may cut the risk of heart disease by as much as 15%. Nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, fiber, folate, vitamin E, and B vitamins. Add nuts to salads, cereals, rice, and seafood, or just eat them by the handful (but do watch your portions, as they are relatively high in calories).
  • Soy protein may help lower blood cholesterol levels, and if you can eat 25 grams per day, you'll reduce your risk of heart disease. Try pouring soymilk on your cereal and munching on soy nuts. Or sample some of the many new soy products on your grocers' shelf.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
What is your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) level?

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or
Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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