It’s American Heart Month, and this year’s focus is on preventing heart disease and promoting heart health in young adults. More young adults are dying of heart disease, and their rates of risk factors are rising.
When you’re a young adult, the best way to protect yourself from heart disease is with smart lifestyle choices, like eating a heart-healthy diet.
Find time to be active, from yoga class to lunchtime walks. Aim for 2.5 hours of physical activity per week.
Teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke tobacco products. Avoid tobacco altogether, or kick it now to protect your heart.
You’re never too young to know your numbers. High blood pressure and cholesterol can affect you younger than you might realize. Learn to take your own blood pressure.
Stick to a medication routine to manage and control conditions like high blood pressure that put your heart at risk.
Reduce stress in your life to protect your heart. Even high levels of noise, like living by railroad tracks, may be bad for your stress level and your heart.
When you see them side by side, you can see that the new label calls out the actual serving size and calories per serving much bigger. At the store, this can quickly help you see how good for you something is in terms of calories, and how much bang for your buck you’re getting in what you buy.
It also calls out added sugars, which are sugars (like sugar, honey, or corn syrup) that are added to packaged food. Fresh fruit has natural sugars, so juices don’t list the sugar that’s naturally occurring from the fruit as added sugar.
And now it calls out the exact amount of nutrients, like vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.
The FDA’s new labels have also changed serving sizes to better show how much people actually eat of certain foods:
While a half a cup of ice cream used to be the recommended serving size, most people are scooping out closer to a cup, so the FDA wanted to make sure you know how many calories you’re actually eating in that bowl of ice cream.
Making the Most of Food Labels
1. Serving Size
When you pick something up at the store, start with the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label.
It will tell you the total number of servings in the package, and the new serving size, which better shows how much of it you actually eat.
These serving sizes are standard, so it’s easier for you to compare the calories and nutrients in similar foods to find the healthiest brand for you. Serving sizes also come in measurements you know, like cups, followed by grams.
Next, look at the number of calories per serving. Calories are a measure of how much energy you’ll get from food.
Many people eat more calories than they need to, so keeping track of how many you eat can help you with your weight. Most people should eat around 2,000 calories per day.
When you’re looking at the calories, if you’re eating around 2,000 calories a day, then 40 calories is low for a serving, 100 calories is in the middle, and 400 or more calories is high. In fact, you should shoot for whole meals to be around 400 calories.
3. Nutrients to Limit
The nutrients listed first are ones that most Americans get plenty or too much of.
Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, or sugar can raise your risk of certain diseases, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
The bold headlines are most helpful for you when you’re shopping, so you can quickly see how much of these is in something, while the subheads, like saturated and trans fat, can help you focus on a nutrient you’re interested in.
The percentages along the side tell you how much of your 2,000 calorie diet this food takes up. So in this image, the total fat in this food takes up 10% of all the fat you should eat in a whole day.
Dietary fiber and protein that are mixed into this list are good for you and important to keep an eye on. Fiber can help you better process food and reduce the risk of heart disease, and protein can help you stay full longer and is important if you’re trying to build muscle.
4. Nutrients You Need
The bottom section of nutrients are ones that many don’t get enough of, so they’ve been highlighted to help you buy foods rich in them.
These are nutrients that can help you improve your health and help lower the risk of some diseases. For example, calcium and vitamin D can help you build strong bones and lower your risk of getting osteoporosis later in life, and potassium can help lower your blood pressure.
The footnote is more simple in the new design, too. It just reminds you that the percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.
Now that you know what the different sections of the Nutrition Facts label are telling you, it will be easy to look for food with good calorie counts, limited salt, fat, and sugar, and plenty of healthy nutrients, like calcium.
Some people are more likely to have high blood pressure, and this can be because of things you can’t control, or because of lifestyle choices you make.
Age – The risk of high blood pressure increases with time. Men usually develop it around age 45 and women after age 65.
Race – High blood pressure and serious complications are more common for African Americans.
Family History – High blood pressure tends to run in families.
Certain Chronic Conditions – Kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea can raise your blood pressure.
Pregnancy – Your blood pressure may be raised during pregnancy.
Being Overweight – The more you weigh, the more blood your body has to pump to perform normal tasks like carrying oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. That more blood that’s pumping, the higher the pressure.
Not Being Physically Active – Not being active usually makes your heart rate higher, which means your heart’s working harder than it should and pumping more.
Tobacco Use – Smoking and chewing tobacco raise your blood pressure temporarily, but it can also damage your arteries which raises your blood pressure in the long-term.
Too Much Salt – When you eat too much salt, you also gain water-weight, which increases your blood pressure.
Too Much Alcohol – Heavy drinkers can damage their heart over time.
Too Little Potassium – Potassium helps balance sodium in your body.
Too Little Vitamin D – Not enough vitamin D in your diet might affect an enzyme your body makes that affects your blood pressure.
If you have some of these other risk factors, your doctor may set your blood pressure target lower.
Other Causes of High Blood Pressure
If you have secondary high blood pressure, it’s caused by an underlying condition. It usually appears suddenly and goes away when the condition has been treated. These things might cause it:
Adrenal gland tumors
Birth defects in your blood vessels
Certain meds, like birth control pills, anti-depressants, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, and some prescription drugs
Illegal drugs like cocaine
Reasons for High Blood Pressure After Meds
Some find that even though they’ve gotten on a medication, their blood pressure is still not low enough. If you find that your blood pressure is higher than normal at certain times, think about these factors.
Some of your lifestyle choices could be raising your blood pressure.
Quit smoking, and cut back on alcohol and caffeine.
Watch your diet.
Make sure you’re taking your meds exactly as your doctor prescribed.
Visit your doctor for regular checkups.
Believe it or not, studies show that the season can have an effect on your blood pressure. It’s more likely to go back to normal levels in the spring and summer than it is in the winter, no matter if you live in a very cold climate or a very warm one.
Perhaps it’s because it’s harder to get out and exercise and because of the extra pounds you can pack on during the holiday season. Either way, this means in the winter, it might be necessary to take higher doses of meds or even different drugs. Talk to your doctor if you notice this seasonal difference in your readings.
Did this raise go hand-in-hand with a new pill you started? Did you get a cold and start taking some over-the-counter meds you don’t normally?
Check to make sure that what you’re taking isn’t to blame. And talk to your doctor about the risk or if you should make changes to your prescriptions.
If your blood pressure is still strangely high, your doctor might need to adjust your meds. And if this still doesn’t help, it might be a sign of something more serious, like kidney problems or a chronic condition. Then, it’s time for a doctor’s appointment and maybe some tests to find the cause.