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Thank you for subscribing to Heart Health, an Avera eNewsletter that provides you with useful information about cardiac care and prevention. We believe a healthy lifestyle starts with a strong heart. To learn more about our services and community events, or to find a physician, visit www.Avera.org.

To your health,

The Avera Staff


Heart attacks are more common in December and January than at any other time of the year. Make time for your heart health this holiday season before you have to make a trip to the emergency room.

More family, rich meals and more alcohol all add up to extra stress that can affect your heart muscle. Digesting a high-fat meal puts stress on the heart, and your blood pressure and heart rate rise. If you're not paying attention to your body's signals or you're ignoring them, the strain on your heart can be fatal. Heart attack symptoms can be milder for women; in addition to more acute signs, women should be mindful of flu-like symptoms, shortness of breath and fatigue.

If you do feel any signs of a heart attack, such as tightness in the chest or arms, chest pain, shortness of breath or nausea, don't wait, just go. Call 911 immediately. Sometimes people who are having heart attack symptoms don't want to interrupt their holiday celebrations.

"People often want to stay with family, so they ignore the symptoms and hope it goes away," says Dr. Tarek Mahrous, cardiologist with North Central Heart Institute in Sioux Falls, S.D. "By the time they come to the hospital, they may be sicker and beyond the ability to adequately treat them."

Take time for yourself during the holidays. If you're feeling stressed, take a break. Ask other families to help with cooking or entertaining. Stick to a heart-healthy diet by avoiding alcohol and foods that are high in fat, sodium and calories.

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Eating a heart-healthy diet doesn't mean you can't enjoy some of your favorite holiday foods. With some planning and a few modifications, it's possible to enjoy the foods you like while still eating a heart-healthy diet.

Bring a dish. If you're going to a gathering that doesn't have foods that fit into your eating plan, volunteer to bring an entrée, side dish or appetizer.

Modify your favorite foods. Some traditional dishes are too high in fat, salt or sugars to fit into a heart-healthy diet. However, you can adjust the recipes you love. Try using whole-wheat pastry flour instead of white flour in breads, pastries and cakes. Natural applesauce can be a good substitute for half of the butter in baked goods, especially if you like a cakey texture.

Reach for the turkey. Choose poultry and fish over beef and ham. Roast turkey, for example, is a good option. If you incorporate beef or ham into your holiday dinners, choose lean cuts.

Fiber is great for heart health. Many holiday staples, such as squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and carrots, are high in fiber. Keep an eye out for dishes that contain oats, barley, mushrooms, beans and cabbage. All are good fiber sources.

Start your day out right. Fill up with a good breakfast, such as old-fashioned oatmeal with low-fat milk and fruit. Having a hearty breakfast will minimize cravings later in the day, and you can better avoid overly salty or sugary foods that aren't good for your heart.

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This pilaf makes a nice side dish at a holiday meal.

1 quart homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth, low sodium
2-1/2 cups bulgur
5 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, ground, to taste
12 ounces mushrooms
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Bring stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Without stirring, add bulgur in a slow, steady stream. Cover and simmer until just tender, about 45 minutes. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a saucepan until almost smoking. Immediately pour hot oil over the cooked bulgur. Cover and simmer until bulgur is dry and tender, about 7 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet. Add mushrooms and sauté until browned lightly, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and almonds to the bulgur; toss to combine. Serve immediately. Serves 8.

Nutrients per Serving
Calories: 321; Protein: 11g; Carbs: 40g; Total Fat: 14g; Sat Fat: 2g; Mono: 10g; Fiber: 9g; Sodium: 179mg; Omega-3 Fats: <1g; Magnesium: 95mg; Potassium: 506mg

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Heart Attack Symptoms
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Heart Health is one in a series of Avera eNewsletters that gives readers valuable information about health and wellness at Avera facilities. It is not intended to replace personal medical advice, which should be obtained directly from a physician.