Are You Doing Your Part for Your Heart?

February is winding down. The groundhog saw his shadow, so winter will be hanging around a little longer than we all hoped. Valentine’s Day has come and gone (perhaps a relief for some?). Not much else happens in February…with the exception of American Heart Month.


In 1963, Congress required the president to designate February as American Heart Month. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in this country, followed by cancer and stroke. Heart disease can lead to a heart attack, angina, heart failure, and heart arrhythmia. Other conditions can stem from having heart disease, such as high blood pressure and peripheral vascular disease. And we’ve discussed in previous posts how people with diabetes are already at higher risk for heart disease.

Now, this isn’t about doom and gloom. Instead, in the remaining days of February, maybe this is the time to focus on your heart (and blood vessels) and ask yourself if you’re doing what you can to keep this vital organ as healthy as possible. You could liken it to getting an inspection sticker for your car, or getting your oil burner cleaned. OK, that may sound silly, but when you have diabetes, you focus so much on your daily self-care activities (checking blood glucose, taking your pills or insulin, counting carbs…) that it’s easy to overlook other things.

Checklist for Heart Health
Get your blood pressure at target. Here’s how:

  • The goal for most people with diabetes is less than 130/80 mm Hg.
  • Consider buying a home blood pressure monitor to keep tabs on your blood pressure.
  • Take your blood pressure medicine as directed. You still need to take it even if your blood pressure is within target and even if you feel fine.
  • Lose a few pounds if you’re overweight.
  • Go walking…or swimming…or dancing…in short, do some kind of activity every day.
  • Five-a-day for fruits and vegetables — it’s not that hard to do!
  • Hide the salt shaker. Read labels for sodium (more than 400 milligrams [mg] per serving is too high).

Get your lipid profile at target. Here’s how:

  • Find out what your cholesterol and triglyceride numbers are. For most people with diabetes, the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol goal is less than 100 mg/dl or less than 70 mg/dl if you have heart disease. HDL (“good”) cholesterol should be higher than 50 mg/dl for women and higher than 40 mg/dl for men. Triglycerides (blood fats) should be less than 150 mg/dl.
  • Focus on the fat in your diet. As you know, not all fat is bad. Saturated and trans fats are the culprits, so limit them. Substitute with healthy fats, such as olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil. And eat more fatty fish.
  • Consider taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (fish or krill oil), but talk with your physician first, especially if you take blood thinner medication.
  • Kick off the day with a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal. Yes, it takes longer to cook, but these oats are packed with soluble fiber and the glycemic index is lower in steel-cut oats than in the instant kind. Cook it overnight in your slow cooker, and it will be ready and waiting for you in the morning.
  • Five-a-day for fruits and vegetables — lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol at the same time!
  • Spread a plant stanol/sterol-based margarine on your toast or English muffin. Try Benecol or Promise Activ spreads.
  • If you’ve been prescribed a lipid-lowering drug such as a statin, be sure to take it. If you’re worried about side effects, talk to your doctor about alternatives.

Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Pain or discomfort in your chest, arms, back, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Sweating
  • In women, heartburn, loss of appetite, weakness, coughing

Better to be safe than sorry: Call 911 or have someone call for you if you think you might be having a heart attack.

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  • CalgaryDiabetic

    Dear amy.

    Is it ok to use some metamucil instead of boiled oats for your soluble fibre? Do you know how much blood sugar raising carb there is in metamucil? I have become so insulin resistant that I need 1 unit of insulin per 2 grams of carb. This is not a good thing since there is much truth in David Spero:” not so fast with the insulin” recent article. The high dosage of insulin makes it impossible to loose weight. So in order to eat some fruits and veggies I must cut out all grain products.

  • CalgaryDiabetic

    Dear Amy

    Is it ok to boil the spinach a bit or do you have to eat it raw to get the vitamin K ? I am not fond of raw spinach but if necessary I can eat it.

    I have a bottle of metformin but it makes me sick after 3 weeks I cannot get out of bed. Not any gastric upset just immense fatigue. it worries me if this chemical poisons my liver or what?

    Do the 12 grams per table spoon of carbs minus the 3 grams of fiber mean that the tablespoon of metamucil needs insulin for 9 grams of carbs? Or it all of it indigestible?

    I used to eat boiled rye, it is yummier than oats and only needs about 25 minutes or less of boiling, I could try again and see if I could eat 25 grams at a time.

  • acampbell

    Hi CalgaryDiabetic,

    Yes, you can use Metamucil in place of oats. One tablespoon of Metamucil (which is psyllium) contains 12 grams of carb and 3 grams fiber. One quarter cup of steel cut oats contains 26 grams of carb and 4 grams fiber. However, don’t feel like you need to cut out grains altogether. If you’re including lower glycemic, whole grains in your eating plan, they can still fit as part of your total carb intake for the day. Two other thoughts to consider: a new study shows that vitamin K may reduce insulin resistance so make sure you’re eating plenty of dark, green veggies such as spinach, collard greens, broccoli and brussels sprouts. Also, you could talk with your physician about adding metformin to your treatment plan; while it means taking another medication, it does help reduce insulin resistance.

  • acampbell


    Cooking doesn’t seem to affect the vitamin K content of vegetables, so I would think eating cooked spinach should be fine. Yes, you’d need to subtract out the 3 grams of fiber from the Metamucil and count it as 9 grams of carb. You can certainly try eating rye again, too, as it also contains soluble fiber. And, of course, if metformin makes you sick, definitely don’t take it. I can’t say if it’s toxic to your liver but it does sound like your system doesn’t tolerate it.

  • mweintraubfit4d

    Another great source of heart healthy water soluble fiber is legumes–all the long cooking beans like pinto beans, split peas, lentils, and black beans. They’re high in fiber and also in protein, which means that for many people they’ll have less of an impact on blood sugar. And using beans is an easy, inexpensive way to make a meatless meal that’s still high in protein. Bean burritos and meatless chili are two of my favorites!

    Martha Weintraub, ACSW, MPH, RD