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Eat Smart Healthy for Good

In 2014, Gabriella De La Vega was working a shift as a part-time Spanish interpreter at a western Michigan hospital when an unexpected wave of dizziness surprised her.Her concern grew as Spanish and English words began escaping her memory and fatigue weighed in. She suspected her busy schedule accompanied by little rest and a diet of high sodium snacks and coffee played parts in these bizarre symptoms.

She was diagnosed with high blood pressure. Equipped with a heart monitor that she wore for a few days, De La Vega discovered her blood pressure was out of control.

“You can have high blood pressure and not feel anything,” De La Vega, now 48, said. She explained how the lack of noticeable symptoms earned high blood pressure the alternate title of “silent killer.” Her diagnosis heavily shifted her focus to her health. “Sometimes, I feel like I’m doing okay, but my blood pressure is really high,” she said.

The immediate solutions, a change in diet and a more active lifestyle, were simple enough for the mother of five to figure out; and she worked closely with her health provider to find the right balance of medication with her life.

Gabriella has made some great lifestyle decisions and it’s not always easy. Healthy food choices make up a large part of the American Heart Association’s Healthy For Good movement. Healthy For Good works to inspire you to create lasting change in your health and your life, one small step at a time.

THE APPROACH IS SIMPLE: EAT SMART. ADD COLOR. MOVE MORE. BE WELL. Messages are sent to area companies to encourage their employees to incorporate some of these healthy habits. As fall settles in and the holidays approach, the emphasis with Healthy For Good in Southwest Michigan is to Eat Smart.

SNEAKING MORE VEGETABLES INTO MEALS – ESPECIALLY WITH PICKY EATERS We all know we need to eat more veggies. Some of us love and eat them at every meal. And then there are those of us who can’t stomach the thought of them. If you’re the primary cook in your family, and pasta sauce and French fries are the only veggies going down at your home, you may want to get a bit sneakier. We’ve come up with some ways to help you add vegetables into meals.

GET SHREDDED! Grab a box grater or the grating attachment on your food processor to shred zucchini, beets, carrots or parsnips to add to all sorts of recipes. You can use them fresh or frozen. Add a vegetable serving to your favorite whole grain muffins and quick breads by mixing shredded zucchini into your batter before baking. You can also sauté shredded carrots, summer squash or butternut squash for about five minutes before adding them to pasta sauce for a quick, veggie-filled meal. Even your pickiest of eaters may not notice.

GET MUSHY! Some vegetables like cooked and blended sweet potato or pumpkin can be added to pancakes, waffles, muffins and more. Apple sauce is another great addition to various baked goods and can replace some of the fats or be used as a sweetener.

GET CHEESY! Cooked and pureed orange vegetables like butternut squash, sweet potatoes and carrots can be blended, unnoticed, into cheesy dishes we all love like macaroni and cheese, lasagna, or baked enchiladas.

WE’RE SALTY ABOUT SALT Sodium is a mineral that’s essential for life. It’s regulated by your kidneys, and it helps control your body’s fluid balance. send nerve impulses and affects muscle function. Yet, on average, we eat more than two-times the recommended amount of sodium. This can lead to serious health problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure or even stroke.

More than 70 percent of the sodium we consume comes from packaged, prepared and restaurant foods. The rest of the sodium in the diet occurs naturally in food (about 15 percent) or is added when we’re cooking food or sitting down to eat (about 11 percent). So even if you never use the salt shaker, you’re probably getting too much sodium.

Because most of the sodium you eat is in your food before you buy it, it can be hard to limit how much you’re getting. Watch out for the Salty Six — the six common foods that add the most sodium to the diet. (See the graphic for details.) One estimate suggested that if the U.S. population dropped its sodium intake to 1,500 mg/day, overall blood pressure could decrease by 25.6%.

A SWEETER WAY TO SATISFY YOUR SWEET TOOTH Sometimes you crave something sweet. But satisfying that urge through processed foods with added sugars can be bad for your health. As women, our risk for type 2 diabetes increases 80 percent by drinking just one sugary drink a day! In Michigan, the American Heart Association teamed up with Delta Dental to raise awareness to the amount of sugar in our beverages. Most Michiganders are surprised when they learn that a USDA statistic says that a 20 oz soda can equal 6 glazed donuts. Water and low-fat white milk are the healthiest replacements for sugary drinks. Carry a refillable water bottle with you so you always have a healthy drink on hand.

To learn more about the Healthy For Good challenge, reach out to the American Heart Association Healthy For Good Director in southwest Michigan, Kimberly. Earnshaw@heart.org.

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