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Learning to eat right for a healthy heart

It may sound simple — eat right and exercise. Living a healthy lifestyle, however, can be quite a complicated thing in modern day society.
Everywhere you turn, food is processed, packaged and filled with saturated fat. Exercise now has to be scheduled. People rarely walk to work or break a sweat over household chores.
“Everything’s instant,” said Melinda Houser, a family and consumer sciences extension agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. “Put it in, push the button, it’s done.”
It’s this kind of society that has created an epidemic of obesity and heart conditions.
In honor of heart month, the extension organized “The Healthy Plate,” a workshop teaches participants the essentials of a healthy lifestyle.
Want to eat better? You better start reading labels. Packages may proclaim the food is low-fat, but it might high in fat and sugar.
“Usually when you go to the grocery store, everyone is in a hurry,” Houser said, “But read labels. I cannot emphasize that enough.”
Other advice includes: choose well instead of dieting, make exercise fun, avoid eating because of boredom, eat out wisely and eat less fat.
Of course these things are easier said than done.
“The best thing I make is reservations,” said Sadie Hoover, who participated in “The Healthy Plate.”
Her active social life makes healthy eating more difficult.
“Just as sure as I buy a head of lettuce, I get invited to eat out,” Hoover said. “I’ve got one rotting in the refrigerator right now.”
For Mike Spann, another workshop participant, the hardest thing is portion control.
“We generally eat healthy, but too much of it,” he said.
Even so, eating right is a great first step to a healthy heart. It’s important to limit sugar, refined starch and bad fats.
“Moderation is key,” said Houser.
While a white bean soup was brewing on the stove, participants learned what to avoid. Saturated and trans fats were listed as mortal enemies, bad news for anyone addicted to bacon and spareribs.
“I know we love bacon, but just remember, it’s a fat,” said Houser. “It’s not a meat.”
Participants also learned to stay away from foods that prompt high cholesterol such as egg yolks and high-fat meat and poultry skin.
Luckily there was also good news. Foods with polyunsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids can be enjoyed heartily. So enjoy fish, tofu and even avocados and nuts in moderation.
And even if you fall off the healthy-eating and exercising wagon, get right back on.
“I know we all break down,” said Houser.
The key is breaking old habits and starting new ones.
“It’s a learned behavior, and it can be done,” said Houser.
Want to go? “The Healthy Plate” will have one more workshop Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the James W. Warren Citizens Center.

by Sarah Grano

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