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Heart Health the Low Carb Way
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By Nina Nethery

If you have high blood pressure, you have a serious health problem -- one that you need to get under control as quickly as possible. The good news about high blood pressure is that it can be treated easily. If your blood pressure is moderately high (131 to 159 over 85 to 99), often weight loss and some lifestyle changes such as exercise and vitamin/mineral supplementation will do the trick. If your blood pressure is higher than that, you may need antihypertensive medication, but weight loss and lifestyle improvements can definitely still help. Even a small improvement in your blood pressure can have a big health payoff.

The controlled carbohydrate approach to weight loss is particularly effective in helping your blood pressure. You’ll lose weight steadily and easily on a diet that's naturally high in nutrients, low in trans fatty acids, and low in sugar. A controlled carb program also helps lower high blood sugar; and because high blood pressure and high blood sugar are very closely linked, you’ll help improve both health problems simultaneously.

The "deadly quartet" of risk factors for heart disease are upper body obesity, glucose intolerance, high triglyceride levels, and hypertension. Recent research points to hyperinsulinism -- the excessive production of insulin -- as the single root cause of all of these risk factors! If you have been abusing your body’s insulin system by eating highly refined and starchy carbohydrates, and if you are overweight, you may be heading for both diabetes and heart disease. Reducing your weight by controlling your carbohydrate consumption will help to restore your insulin system and your cardiovascular system to excellent health.

Many scientists now regard high triglycerides, high LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and low HDL ("good" cholesterol) as far more potent predictors of future coronary trouble than just total cholesterol level alone. You may have also heard of Syndrome X -- a popular buzzword for heart disease’s high-risk profile: hypertension along with high triglyceride levels and decreased HDL levels. For example, the ratio of high triglycerides and low HDL has been correlated to the incidence of hearth disease. Your heart-attack risk level can be lowered significantly when these problems are corrected. When you are following a low carb diet, you're following the very plan that corrects this entire syndrome while nourishing yourself with healthy foods.

You won't need to trim your weight down a lot to start seeing the heart-health benefits. Losing just 10 pounds will have a positive effect; losing 10 percent of your body weight will be even better. As a general rule, your systolic blood pressure (the higher number) will drop one point for every pound you lose. That means losing just 10 pounds could lower your blood pressure from the high normal range (130 to 139 over 85 to 89) back to normal (130 over 85 or lower). As your blood pressure drops, so does your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

By adding lots of fresh vegetables and nuts to your diet -- exactly what you do on low-carb -- you’ll be getting more of the naturally-occurring minerals -- potassium, magnesium and calcium -- which have been shown to help lower blood pressure.

Another important way to protect your heart health is to avoid Trans Fats -- the transformed fats such as margarine and hydrogenated fats found in most highly processed baked goods and junk food. These unnatural fats are manufactured by heating vegetable oils to very high temperatures and bombarding them with hydrogen gas to make them more stable and give them a longer shelf life. Recent studies have shown that the incidence of heart disease is much higher in individuals who have a high intake of trans fats.

What can you expect when you have been diligently following a low carb diet for several weeks? Your total cholesterol will probably go down -- that's the most common result -- but even if it doesn't or if it increases slightly, your ratio of HDL ("good" cholesterol) to LDL ("bad" cholesterol) will get better, and so will your ratio of triglycerides to HDL. Those ratios are the most significant predictors of a future coronary event. And if you were progressing toward diabetes -- one of the grand gateways to heart disease -- the improvements in your blood-sugar and insulin levels should astonish and delight your physician.

Note: Much of the information for this article came from the Atkins Center website, www.Atkins.com. Please visit this site for more information. LoCarbDiner.com is a certified Atkins Retail store.