The number of people diagnosed with heart failure — when the heart is too weak to pump blood throughout the body — will increase 46 percent by 2030, resulting in more than 8 million adults with heart failure, according to recent projections.
Additionally, roughly 1 in 3, or 92.1 million, adults have cardiovascular diseases, which account for thousands of heart attacks and strokes each year. But as these numbers climb, particularly among African Americans, physicians across the nation are pushing for preventative measures, most of which begin with better eating.
In an October statement released by the American Heart Association (AHA), the existence of “marked disparities in the onset of heart failure, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease in African Americans; with rates of mortality from all cardiovascular diseases significantly higher among Blacks than other racial/ethnic groups.”
The AHA suggested making an overall shift in lifestyle — including better diets — a top priority for mitigating those disparities.
“Older folks used to say that a person was ‘digging their own grave with a knife and fork,’ which came off comical to us as kids, but it is very true,” said Ward 6 resident Rana Ferguson. “Too many Black people are eating through trauma, depression, anxiety, or consuming things that make us feel good, but are not good for us. It wasn’t until I began feeling the effects of years of bad eating that I fully understood that our bodies are being taxed constantly by what we put into them.”
Ferguson, 34, was diagnosed with hypertension as a freshman in high school, only to have the condition spiral out of control during college. Only after a mild stroke, brought on by elevated blood pressure and stress, did she take heed to warnings about improving her diet.
“There were not big changes — we’re talking eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, keep away from things that are fried and greasy, and a lot of junk foods,” Ferguson said.
The AHA, in its efforts to increase better eating choices during February, which is Heart Healthy Month, has offered additional guidelines for reducing blood pressure and improving overall cardiovascular conditions, beginning at the table.
Research supported by the American College of Cardiology notes that African-American cultural tastes both compliment and distort the lines between heart-healthy and unhealthy, blurring the lines of good health.
For instance, traditional soul food diets include many fruits and vegetables such as collard greens, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, dried beans and peas, watermelon, blackberries, corn and okra. Conversely, the diet can also be described as being high in added fats, sugars and sodium, with prominent use of high-fat meats for main dishes and the use of deep frying and other cooking techniques that add excess calories and sodium.
The goal is to lessen the sugars, fats and sodium, replacing them with healthier alternatives.
Additionally, many African Americans are overweight but malnourished, meaning the foods they do consume contain empty calories that fill the stomach, but do not work towards their cognitive or motor skills, and maintenance of their body functions.
Nutrient-rich foods have minerals, protein, whole grains and other nutrients but are lower in calories. Eat an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils.
Recommendations also include limiting saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.
The Mayo Clinic continues to promote the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which Ferguson has worked into her overall lifestyle changes to lose more than 70 pounds and control her blood pressure.
DASH emphasizes foods that are lower in sodium as well as foods that are rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium — nutrients that help lower blood pressure using menus with plenty of vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products, as well as whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts.
For more information on the DASH meal plan, go to www.nhlbi.nih.gov.