What do vegetables and fruits have in common with soy? They may all help to combat cardiovascular disease, which is still currently the number-one killer of both men and women.

It is responsible for more than 950,000 deaths annually and costs billions of dollars to treat each year.

What are the risk factors for cardiovascular disease?

Well, there are two major types of risk factors: Ones that can be controlled and ones that cannot be controlled. Those that can be modified include the following: hypertension (or high blood pressure); obesity; diabetes; high LDL (low-density lipoproteins) or “bad cholesterol,” low HDL (high-density lipoproteins) or “good cholesterol”; lack of exercise; and cigarette smoking. One risk factor that cannot be modified is sex. Males over the age of 55 are at the greatest risk. Females seem to be somewhat protected, that is, until menopause. After a woman completes menopause, her risk for cardiovascular disease increases. Another non-modifiable risk factor is age; older adults are at higher risk for heart disease. Men older than 55 and women over the age of 65 are at the greatest risk. Finally, family history or your “gene pool” is one other risk factor that cannot be controlled. Some people are genetically more prone to have heart disease and many times this can be seen by a strong family history of other members with heart disease. Cholesterol levels play a large part in atherosclerosis (otherwise known as plaque build-up in the artery walls). High levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, have been linked to higher risk of heart disease. However, a high level of HDL, at least 60 or more, has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and is therefore considered a “negative” risk factor.

What can I do to lower my risk for cardiovascular disease?

The first thing that you need to do is determine what risk factors, if any, you have. This may require a preventive cardiology exam in which you have your cholesterol tested and blood pressure checked and possibly even a stress test. Next, try to correct any modifiable risk factors that you may have. If you smoke, stop! Smoking is probably the single most preventable risk factor there is. If you are overweight and sedentary, try to become more active, with your physician’s approval, as exercise will help in the weight-loss process. Weight loss will assist in helping to lower blood pressure and will help regulate blood glucose levels for those with diabetes. Consume a diet that is higher in lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and soy products.

What does a heart healthy diet consist of?

According to the American Heart Association, a heart healthy diet consists of no more than 30 percent of total calories from fat. The important fat to try to decrease is the saturated fats as these are the fats that tend to raise LDL levels (which in turn may lead to more plaque build-up in the arteries). Limit cholesterol to no more than 200 to 300 milligrams per day. Watch sodium intake. Increase intake of higher fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and more recently, research has suggested incorporating soy products into the diet.

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