In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our September 2011 issue, we gave a reader's question about preventing heart disease to James Beckerman, MD, WebMD's heart health expert.
Q : Heart disease runs in my family. What can I really do now to help prevent it?
A : Cut out these five things to greatly reduce your risk:
Smoking (or hanging around with smokers). Smoking is the most dangerous -- yet most reversible...
To figure out the best approach, ask yourself some key questions about your health and eating style.
1. What Does Your Doctor Say?
Ask him what your diet goals should be. Do you need to bring down your cholesterol levels and blood pressure? Do you have diabetes or some extra pounds to lose? Does heart disease run in your family?
These are a few of the things your doctor will consider when he gives you advice. He may also refer you to a registered dietitian, who works with people who have heart disease.
2. What Are You Eating Now?
How much you need to change your diet depends on the kind of food you go for now. Is your diet pretty healthy? Or could it be a lot better?
"If, for example, you have a cup of coffee, a fat-laden croissant, or a breakfast sandwich in the morning, followed by a fast-food burger lunch [and] a drive-thru dinner to end your commute, then you need to clear the table entirely and start new," says cardiologist John Kennedy, MD.
But if you usually eat foods that are good for you along with a few that aren't, you might just need to fine-tune your diet, rather than overhaul it.
3. How Motivated Are You?
Change takes work. If you need to make some big-time revisions, you have to be motivated to keep it up.
Former President Bill Clinton famously traded barbecue, burgers, fries, and doughnuts for a vegan diet with very little oil to help manage his heart disease.
It took him 2 decades -- and two heart procedures -- to make the commitment. He met with Dean Ornish, MD, to talk it over first. Ornish has written several books on diets that are good for people with heart disease.
If you want to go for that but it seems daunting, you could make changes bit by bit, rather than overnight. For instance, instead of snacking on chips, try a handful of nuts. Trade soda for bottled water, Kennedy says.