Joyce Luna is skeptical of people who say eating less fat won’t help your health.

A new study released by the government claims that eating a reduced-fat diet doesn’t reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

“Despite the study, eating a low-fat diet does help prevent heart disease,” said Luna, director of medical education at Northeastern Oklahoma Community Health Centers.

Carol McKiel, coordinator for the Cherokee County Health Coalition, agrees, pointing out that even the researchers admit the study was flawed.

The study, conducted over the course of eight years, followed 20,000 mostly overweight post-menopausal women as they radically changed their eating habits and cost $415 million.

Researchers suggested the participants -- with an average age of 62 -- may have started their healthy eating too late. They also didn’t reduce fats as much as the diet demanded. And while some initially lost a few pounds, the diet was not designed for weight loss, and most remained overweight, a major risk factor for cancer and heart problems.

February is American Heart Month, and local health officials are helping people learn how to live healthy lifestyles and maintain healthy hearts.

“Heart disease is a serious problem in Oklahoma,” said McKiel. “It is the No. 1 killer of women. Each day, 11 Oklahoma women die of heart disease. Each year, more than 4,000 Oklahoma women die of heart disease.”

People concerned about developing heart disease or other cardiovascular problems can take several key steps.

“The No. 1 thing is, if you are a smoker, to quit,” said McKiel. “The effect of smoking decreases the amount of oxygen your lungs take in. That makes your heart beat faster so your body can get enough oxygen.”

Cigarette smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association.

“It is an addictive habit that is associated strongly with serious internal diseases, such as cancer, lung disease and cardiovascular disease,” the AHA Web site states. “Smokers’ risk of heart attack is more than twice that of nonsmokers, and smokers’ risk of sudden cardiac death is two to four times that of nonsmokers.”

Luna and NEOCHC are planning to educate patients through informational programs and fliers starting Feb. 17 at Hulbert’s Legislative Breakfast.

“We are zeroing in on heart education this month,” said Luna. “We’ll be presenting a short program at the legislative breakfast, and we’ll have fliers available for people to take home. We’ll also have the fliers available at the clinics for patients.”

Luna said the aim is to educate people on how to take care of themselves, to recognize the warning signs of cardiovascular disease, and to determine if they are at risk.

Some of the signs of cardiovascular disease are high cholesterol and high blood pressure. High cholesterol is above 200.

Luna said that HDL (or good cholesterol) should be above 50, while LDL (or lousy cholesterol) should be below 100.

Obesity and smoking increase the risk of developing heart problems.

“Family history can also play a part,” said Luna.

There are other things people can do to reduce their risk of developing heart disease, aside from quitting smoking; the most important is exercise. Both Luna and McKiel recommend 30 minutes of brisk exercise per day.

“It is recommended that people do some form of exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week,” said McKiel. “Not just a stroll around the house, either; it needs to be a brisk walk that keeps your heart rate up.”

For eating healthy, Luna is stressing “Five a Day.”

“That’s five fruits and vegetables a day,” said Luna. “Seven is even better. We’re also encouraging an overall balanced diet, with whole wheat breads and grains and lean meats.”

Watching the number of calories they take in each day can be a surprise for some people.

“The average person only needs about 2,000 calories a day. If you have a big cheeseburger for lunch, that’s probably around 500 calories; then you include the French fries and drink,” said McKiel. “In one lunch meal, you’ve given yourself half of your calories for the day.”

Luna said yearly checkups are recommended for adults, but those who may have problems should see their doctors more often, depending on the physician’s recommendation.

Learn more

To get more information on a healthy heart, visit