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Eating for a healthy heart

VANDENBERG AFB, Calif. --  A sugary snack or beverage may feed an appetite, but a healthy diet will result in a healthier heart. A high-fat, bad cholesterol diet can increase the risk of coronary disease. (Photo/Staff Sgt. Jamie Lessard)

VANDENBERG AFB, Calif. -- A sugary snack or beverage may feed an appetite, but a healthy diet will result in a healthier heart. A high-fat, bad cholesterol diet can increase the risk of coronary disease. (Photo/Staff Sgt. Jamie Lessard)

VANDENBERG AFB, Calif. -- For some people, being "Fit to Fight" means being able to run a couple of miles after doing push-ups and sit-ups. 

However, one muscle everyone needs to remember can't be viewed in the mirror - it's the heart. 

"Weight loss is most people's goal - that's what they see," said Tina Levins, a fitness program coordinator at the Health and Wellness Center here. "You don't see your heart, though." 

The problem with that is most people think if their body looks good, they won't have heart problems. 

"Cholesterol and hypertension comes in all shapes and sizes," Mrs. Levins said. 

In fact, in 2004 the National Center for Health Statistics listed heart disease as the leading cause of death. While heart problems can be hereditary, people can do much in the way of lowering their risk of death. 

Four ways people can maintain a healthy heart are to eat healthy, exercise regularly, don't use tobacco and know their family history, said Melinda Reed, a registered dietician at the HAWC here. 

"You have to have both a healthy diet and plenty of exercise," Ms. Reed said. 

A healthy diet will help to lower one's cholesterol. A diet high in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol increases the risk of coronary heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. People should limit eating foods such as whole milk, butter, saturated oils like palm oil, and fried foods. Foods people should eat include fruits and vegetables, grain products like rice and pasta, fatty fish, nuts and unsaturated vegetable oils like canola or corn oil. 

"Four or more of your veggies per day should be non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and carrots," Ms. Reed said. "Starchy vegetables include peas and corn." 

A half cup of peas contains 80 calories, while a half cup of broccoli contains 25 calories, she said. 

Airmen may be getting to know their base gym, but it is also important to know their way around a grocery store. 

"You don't need to understand every detail like a dietician," Mrs. Levins said. "But people do need to be informed. Make a healthy diet a part of your lifestyle." 

To stay informed, Airmen can visit the HAWC and get information from dieticians and fitness coordinators. They have pamphlets and fact sheets on everything from healthy cooking tips to managing cholesterol levels. 

"The big picture to think about is your quality of life," Mrs. Levins said. "If you want to be there for your children and your grandchildren, take care of yourself right now."