Did you know that a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes doubles your risk of developing heart disease? Over time, high blood sugar levels can put stress on the cardiovascular system, damaging blood vessels and increasing the chances of developing conditions like atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. While these are not direct symptoms of type 2 diabetes, they are common complications of the disease and factors that can lead to heart disease.
Thankfully, taking steps to manage blood sugar levels along with implementing a variety of lifestyle behaviors can help to improve the health of your heart and lower the risk of future disease. The American Heart Association has recognized eight key areas for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health, known as Life’s Essential 8TM. Incorporating these eight principles into your daily routine can go a long way in benefiting your overall health. Let’s take a look at what they are and how they apply to you.
This post has been created in partnership with Fresh Avocados – Love One Today®. As always, all opinions are my own.
The first principle of Life’s Essential 8 is to eat a nutrient-rich diet that promotes overall health. Enjoying vegetables and fruit, plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins, good fats, and adequate fiber can be a positive step for heart health.
So how can you do this? A Healthy Mediterranean-Style Dietary Pattern or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) dietary pattern are examples of nutrient-rich diets that can support this principle. Start small such as focusing on easy things to add to or swap in your daily meal plan. For a 2,000-calorie diet, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 2 ½ servings of both fruits and vegetables each day for the Healthy Mediterranean-Style diet. The DASH diet includes even more produce with 4-5 servings of both fruits and vegetables each day.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommends replacing saturated fats with good, unsaturated fats as these fats offer benefits to the body without raising LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. So, if you swap out foods rich in saturated fat and replace them with plant-based, unsaturated fats instead, this may provide benefits to cholesterol levels as well as overall heart health.
Avocados can help you satisfy both recommendations by adding more produce AND unsaturated fats to your plate. Avocado is so versatile it can be enjoyed fresh, sliced, or mashed into a variety of dishes from eggs to smoothies, soups, salads, and sandwiches. For instance, try topping a sandwich or burger with a slice of avocado instead of a slice of cheese.
It’s no secret that most of us do not get enough physical activity. And since your heart is a muscle, the more you move, the stronger your heart gets. According to the American Heart Association, it’s recommended that adults get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity (like water aerobics and walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity (like running and swimming) per week or a combination of both, spread throughout the week. Reaching the 150 minute/week goal could be done with 30 minutes per day five times per week, for example.
If that sounds overwhelming, don’t stress. Exercise is cumulative. So, adding a five-minute walk after breakfast or marching in place during commercials while watching TV can all add up. Start small, and before you know it, you’ll be able to reach your daily goals.
Inhaled nicotine products, including traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping, is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Using these products can also significantly increase the risk for heart disease. If you use tobacco products, work with your healthcare provider to determine the best course of action to help you quit.
About 33% of US adults don’t get enough sleep and as many as 50 to 70 million people struggle with at least one sleep disorder. This widespread struggle with sleep has a major impact on health by increasing the risk of everything from a suppressed immune system to heart disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers. In fact, just one poor night of sleep can disrupt hunger and satiety hormones which directly impact appetite and body weight. Being active during the day can help you fall asleep at night – one more reason to work at principle #2!
Over 41% of the adult US population is living with obesity, a condition that can raise the risk of heart disease, especially when excess body fat comes in the form of visceral fat (or belly fat). Luckily, implementing many of the Life’s Essential 8 principles, such as eating a balanced diet, improving sleep, and engaging in physical activity, can help to reduce levels of this type of body fat. In addition, adding satisfying foods, such as avocado, to the diet may help because they promote the physical sensation of fullness, or satiety, which is important for managing appetite and body weight. Fat and fiber are two nutrients that satiety. Avocados are unique because they are a good source of fiber (3 grams per serving) and virtually the only fruit with unsaturated fats.
A clinical trial of 1,008 adults with overweight or obesity found that despite the additional calories, daily avocado consumption did not impact visceral fat, body weight and fat in the liver (a vital organ that helps metabolize nutrients), compared to the control group who didn’t consume avocado. The Avocado Nutrition Center supported this study, and although the findings from one study cannot be generalized to larger populations, this study supports a growing body of evidence that suggests consuming heart-healthy avocados is associated with better diet quality and provides another reason to make fresh avocado part of your daily routine.
Elevated cholesterol levels may increase the risk of heart disease, especially when the unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels rise. However, dietary interventions, such as increasing the intake of phytosterols, may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Phytosterols are naturally occurring substances found in avocados and other plant foods that help to block the absorption of cholesterol in the body when consumed twice daily as part of a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. One easy way to boost your intake is by adding avocado to your plate. Just one-third of a medium avocado contains 38 milligrams of beta-sitosterol, a type of phytosterol.
Engaging in efforts to support healthy blood sugar levels, even if you have already been diagnosed with diabetes, can help reduce your risk for heart disease. To help balance blood sugar, focus on adding foods that help keep your blood sugar in target ranges. Balancing meals with a combination of protein, good fat, and fiber can help to improve blood sugar levels. For instance, a clinical trial that included 31 adults with overweight or obesity found the addition of a half or whole avocado to a breakfast meal lowered glucose and insulin levels when compared to the same breakfast without avocado. The Avocado Nutrition Center supported the research. Conclusions cannot be generalized to all populations, study length, or for different amounts of avocado. The findings in this study align with a growing body of evidence supporting avocados as beneficial for heart health and a type 2 diabetes diet.
Achieving a healthy blood pressure level is also important for reducing heart disease risk. Thankfully, if you have already started to implement principles one through seven, you are already on your way to supporting healthy blood pressure levels.
When it comes to diet, consuming an adequate amount of potassium each day can help to offset some of sodium’s harmful effects on blood pressure. To boost your intake, try adding in foods that contain potassium such avocado (250 milligrams of potassium per one-third of a medium avocado), lima beans (477 milligrams of potassium per one half cup), and bananas (422 milligrams of potassium per medium banana). Following the DASH eating pattern is another way to make sure you’re getting adequate potassium in the diet.
The role of avocado
As you can see, fresh avocado can provide numerous benefits to overall health, including helping you to achieve many of the Life’s Essentials 8 principles. So, are you ready to add more to your plate? You are in luck because avocado is so versatile it can be added into many meals, dishes, and recipes.