As a nurse, you probably already know how lethal heart disease can be. Many nurses see the ravages or the long-term damage done when heart disease goes untreated. In your busy day-to-day life, are you doing enough to protect your own heart? Did you know protecting your own health can even trickle down to your patients’ attitudes about heart health?

According to a study published last week in the Journal of the American Heart Association, eating the right kinds of fats can make such a huge health impact that millions of deaths worldwide could be avoided if people adapted better habits.

The key, says the study, isn’t to cut fats out of your diet. Human bodies need fat to run properly, and everything from blood flow to brain function depends on getting fat in your diet. As many of us already know, there are a lot of different types of fats out there. And knowing the difference can help your own health and can give you some great information to discuss with your patients. The study also promotes the reduction of the refined carbohydrates that are so prevalent in our diets – things like sugary drinks, desserts, and even starchy food like rice, pasta, and many breads.

Saturated fats, in things like animal products (meat, butter, cream) and trans-fats (in many packaged baked goods like crackers, cookies, and pastries) do the most damage to your heart. But then there are fats that actually help your heart with their high concentration of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These kinds of good fats are the kinds frequently praised for their healthy ways. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are found in many vegetable oils (like olive, soybean, vegetable, canola, and peanut oils), fatty fish (like salmon or mackerel), and in nuts, seeds, and tofu.

So how can you make healthy swaps? And what are some ways you can work these ideas into conversation with your patients? The first thing to do is try it out in your own life, then you’ll know what kinds of practical advice you can give out. It’s easy to say “eat more fish,” but if you know that you can buy frozen small portions of salmon that you bake quickly in your toaster oven with some green veggies and a couple of tiny potatoes, you can pass that kind of useful advice along to someone else.

What else? Do you pick up any old vegetable oil in the store? Have you ever tried baking with olive oil or a mixture of heart healthy oils like canola and olive oils? Mixing things up in your own kitchen can help improve your health and can offer you useful insight to how your advice might help your patients. If you use olive oil for your own salad dressings, you might find out that the oil can become semisolid in the fridge. If you didn’t know you had to leave the dressing out for a few minutes, you might think you somehow messed up the recipe! Telling someone that can make them more successful at changing their own habits because they know exactly what to expect.

Have you had any luck trying to reduce other bad fats in your diet like cutting back on your nightly ice cream habit? Lots of patients probably struggle with that, too. If you can compare the best low-fat ice creams or frozen yogurts, not only will you bond with patients, but you’ll also be improving your health and theirs, too.

Paying attention to the fats and refined carbs in your diet isn’t easy, but the health benefits you can gain by making small changes are worthwhile. And as a bonus, you’ll have some real-life advice and tips to offer your patients who are trying to do the same.

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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