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'The Killers': Here Are the Foods to Avoid and the Right Foods to Eat for Heart Health

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The week after the Daylight Savings Time switchover presents a challenge for most Americans, but for some, it can be life-threatening.

Studies show a 24 percent increase in heart attacks the Monday after the time change, as well as a surge in hospitalizations due to irregular heartbeat. Doctors suspect it's related to the disruption of sleep. 

Heart disease is America's leading cause of death, accounting for 20 percent of all fatalities.  In fact, the CDC estimates one person dies every 34 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.  

The good news is heart disease is largely preventable for those who embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle. However, new research shows many Americans harbor misconceptions about the best way to do that.

A new Cleveland Clinic survey reveals while most Americans correctly believe excess weight can contribute to heart disease, a whopping 71 percent don't know the best way to shed those extra pounds. 

"A majority of Americans thought exercise was the biggest thing that we could do to lose weight when we know that isn't true," Cleveland Clinic Cardiologist Luke Laffin told CBN News. "The biggest thing that people need to do is modify their diet."

When it comes to which diet is best for overall heart health, most people got that one wrong, too: 

  • 10% said a fast food diet is best,  
  • 37% chose low-fat,  
  • 35% said low-carbohydrate, and 
  • only 15% correctly identified the Mediterranean diet as the heart-healthiest.

"It has the best data for actually reducing strokes and heart attacks, and there's large, randomized clinical trials that show this," said Dr. Laffin.

The Right Foods to Eat

Many people don't realize the Mediterranean diet consists mostly of fruits and vegetables, also known as "good carbs."

"If you think about your plate as a pie chart, 60-70% of that should be fruits and vegetables," said Dr. Laffin.

A key portion of the Mediterranean diet involves consuming olive oil, widely considered a "healthy fat." 

"Extra virgin olive oil has an anti-inflammatory component called oleic acid, and we know that some cardiovascular risk is driven by overall, or systemic inflammation in the body, so that can be helpful," said Dr. Laffin.

When it comes to protein, the Mediterranean diet allows for beans, poultry, and fish.

'The Killers'

It's worth noting that does not include shellfish, which can be high in cholesterol. Red meat and pork are largely forbidden.

Also noticeably absent from the Mediterranean diet are sugary foods and processed foods.

"Chips, crackers, pastries, lunchmeats, those are the killers," said Dr. Laffin.

Far too many Americans don't know their blood pressure or cholesterol numbers and don't realize these are two primary risk factors that can be controlled.

"Most people should be seeing their primary care doctor and they should be checking that," said Dr. Laffin.

Suspicious Symptoms

Lastly, more people need to know there are other heart attack symptoms beyond chest pain and pressure. 

"For women," said Dr. Laffin, "I typically say that nausea or any type of gastrointestinal symptoms that just are lingering and not going away, you should think about maybe it's my heart."

So while there is a lot we can do to lower our risk of heart disease, the first step is getting the right information. 

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