Quiz: Do You Know How to Eat Your Way to a Healthier Heart?

Whether you're ordering at a restaurant or combing through the fridge, your choices could be putting your heart at risk. But food isn't the enemy. In fact, a healthy diet can be one of the most effective weapons against heart disease. Take this short quiz to see how much you know about a heart-healthy diet.

1. Which of these foods can help lower your risk of heart attack?

a. Nuts

b. Fish

c. Soybeans

d. All of the above

2. Which of these steps is MOST likely to lower your cholesterol levels?

a. Choosing foods low in cholesterol

b. Choosing foods low in saturated fat

c. Choosing foods high in fiber

d. Choosing foods low in polyunsaturated fat

3. Monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, can actually be good for your heart. True or false?

True

False

4. Scanning the list of ingredients on a box of low-fat cookies, you see "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" near the top. What should you do?

a. Buy them -- they're healthier than most snacks

b. Put them back -- they could be bad for your heart

c. Keep reading -- other ingredients are much more important

5. One or two glasses of wine each day can be good for the heart. True or false?

True

False

6. How do fruits and vegetables help prevent heart disease?

a. By protecting arteries from injury

b. By lowering cholesterol levels

c. By lowering blood pressure

d. All of the above

Your Results

1. Which of these foods can help lower your risk of heart attack?

The correct answer is: d. All of the above

All of these foods seem tailor-made to help the heart. Like other types of beans, soybeans will both lower your LDL "bad" cholesterol and increase your HDL "good" cholesterol. Nuts are packed with monounsaturated fats that help keep cholesterol from sticking to your arteries (just limit them to a handful a day, and cut back on other calories if necessary). Fish -- especially fatty fish such as salmon -- contain omega-3 fatty acids that can help your heart stay in rhythm. The oil in fish also thins the blood, lowering the risk of dangerous blood clots. (Some fish, including swordfish, have unusually high mercury counts; check with your doctor if you have questions.)

2. Which of these steps is MOST likely to lower your cholesterol levels?

The correct answer is: b. Choosing foods low in saturated fat

Nothing in your diet, not even cholesterol, will boost your cholesterol levels faster than saturated fats. (Saturated fats are most often found in milk, meat, cheese and butter, and baked goods.) The American Heart Association recommends getting less than 7 percent of your calories from saturated fats. For someone eating an average of 2,000 calories a day, this adds up to no more than 16 grams of sat fat (checking food labels will help). To reach this goal, you should also go easy on fried foods, fatty meats, and dairy products made from whole or 2 percent milk (i.e., drink skim or 1 percent milk.) Besides cutting down on saturated fats, exercise and a diet very high in fiber (including fruits, vegetables, and nuts) may also dramatically help lower your cholesterol.

3. Monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, can actually be good for your heart. True or false?

The correct answer is: True

These fats help keep cholesterol from clogging your arteries. One study of heart patients found that a so-called Mediterranean diet rich in monounsaturated fats cut the risk of a heart attack by 80 percent. Just remember, even healthy oils have a lot of calories, so don't drown your salad in them -- the key is always moderation.

4. Scanning the list of ingredients on a box of low-fat cookies, you see "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" near the top. What should you do?

The correct answer is: b. Put them back -- they could be bad for your heart.

Anything made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil contains a dietary villain known as trans fat. This type of fat, which lurks in stick margarine, fried foods, and many snack foods, threatens the heart in two ways. Not only does it increase your artery-clogging LDL cholesterol, it also lowers your HDL ("good") cholesterol. A recent Harvard study of more than 80,000 women suggested that replacing just 2 percent of trans fat calories with calories from healthier fats reduced the risk of heart disease by more than 50 percent. You can help lower your trans fat intake by avoiding potato chips and other foods that crinkle, getting margarine in a tub rather than a stick, and buying crackers made with olive oil. One exception is peanut butter although "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" is usually on the label, it's still considered good for you.

5. One or two glasses of wine each day can be good for the heart. True or false?

The correct answer is: True

Modest amounts of alcohol -- whether it's beer, wine, or hard liquor -- help boost HDL ("good") cholesterol and prevent blood clots. In fact, one or two drinks a day can cut your risk of heart disease by 40 percent. Heavy drinking, however, can raise your blood pressure or damage your heart muscle. (This isn't to say that everyone should have a drink a day -- many people have certain health problems (such as alcoholism or liver disease) or take medications that shouldn't be combined with alcohol, and so should avoid alcohol altogether. In addition, the federal government advises women to limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day (and men to no more than two a day) since women and men metabolize alcohol differently. Talk to your doctor about whether moderate drinking might be of benefit to you.

6. How do fruits and vegetables help prevent heart disease?

The correct answer is: d. All of the above

For all of these reasons, the American Heart Association recommends eating four to five servings each of fruits and vegetables every day if you're eating 2,000 calories a day. Just remember that some fruits and fruit juices are high in sugar and calories, and should be avoided in large quantities (if you're diabetic or have questions about this, check with your doctor).

References

Jenkins, David J.A., MD et al. "Effects of a Dietary Portfolio of Cholesterol-Lowering Foods vs. Lovastatin on Serum Lipids and C-Reactive Protein," Journal of the American Medical Association, July 23, 2003

The American Academy of Family Physicians. Information from your family doctor: Choosing healthy, low-fat foods. February 2000.

High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know. NIH Publication No. 01-3290 May 2001

Ornish D., et al. Intensive Lifestyle Changes for Reversal of Coronary Heart Disease. Journal of the American Medical Association. December 16, 1998. 280(23):2001-2007

American Heart Association. Heart and Stroke: A to Z Guide.

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