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Local entities unite to offer heart-smart series

It's easy to agree on that everybody needs a healthy heart.

Several entities in River Falls recently joined efforts to bring people the knowledge they need to have one.

The River Falls Area Hospital, River Falls Medical Clinic, Dick's Fresh Market, The West Wind Supper Club and United Hospital's Nasseff Heart Center put together a four-part series called "How to Be Heart Smart -- At Home and Dining Out."

Students paid $40 to get a thorough evaluation that included everything from cholesterol to body mass index, advice from a registered dietician about risk factors and how to avoid them, a lesson at The West Wind about heart-healthy cooking methods and a samples of heart-smart foods plus grocery-shopping tips at Dick's.

RFAH Wellness Center Coordinator Shauna Knott said, "We hope to do something like it again in the future."

She said the group has talked about having another series in the fall or checking up with participants of this program to see how they fared. Knott helped the students through the first class of the series in which each one had blood drawn and tested.

She said it's extremely important to know what the numbers are for cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides and others. Knott equates it to each student knowing where they stand.

She said once a person gets the numbers, she advises each one to ask themselves three main questions: How am I eating? What dietary changes do I need to incorporate? and Am I incorporating exercise?

Knott said she also advises people to talk with their providers about questions and concerns, to know their personal and family (medical) history. She thinks a nice part of program is that people come together and get a full assessment plus the opportunity to ask medical professionals directly about their individual situations.

Debra Sanders, registered dietitian with the local hospital and clinic, helped teach people about risk factors and how to avoid them and about what foods promote heart health.

United Hospital Heart Center suggested the education series in a meeting. All wanted a program that would empower participants to make healthy choices whether eating in or out, according to Bonnie Kiecker of the River Falls Medical Clinic.

She said, "River Falls is now serving as a 'test market' for this concept for other Allina hospitals as well as for SuperValu, who have expressed much interest in the work Dick is doing labeling shelves and making heart-healthy shopping easier in his store."

Kiecker said response from the program's 29 participants has been positive. They're interested in their health screenings, have a lot of questions about how to avoid risk, and are very serious about making necessary changes, she says.

Eating out

West Wind chef Anthony Leone said last week, "People think they can't go out to eat because of all the fat and cream that restaurants use."

He said while humans need fat in their bodies, they just have to learn more about things like the right oils and how much butter is too much. Leone said people can ask for the broiled, baked or grilled version of a food -- always healthier than fried.

Another example: Opt for a vinaigrette dressing rather than creamy ranch, bleu cheese or others made with heavy ingredients such as eggs, cream and mayonnaise.

He points out how combining fruits and peppers can create exciting tastes. Leone planned to serve the students samples of things he'd prepared.

"It's a trend with healthy eating, but people don't want to lose that flavor," he said.

People can ask their server about how a restaurant prepares its food or for light oil or butter in their dish. Leone says if somebody's really watching what they eat, they'll want to avoid real cream, mayonnaise-based salads and thick cheese sauces.

"Everything in moderation is OK," he said. "If you put a little thought into it, you can tell what's good and bad."

Leone points to a few things on The West Wind's menu that would be heart smarter than most: Grilled pineapple chicken skewers, bruschetta baked with olive oil and grilled pork.

He doesn't expect any immediate changes to The West Wind's menu but says people could see some new heart-healthy options the next time it's updated.

Eating in

Dick's Fresh Market owner, 50-year grocery veteran and past heart-attack victim Dick Rinehart said, "I had a healthy diet before my stints went it, and they (arteries) still got clogged up."

He said he also began checking into healthier foods as a means of staying competitive. Rinehart said he has a great respect for all small business owners "up against the big boys."

The grocer began using transfat-free oil for deli chicken. He gathered customer feedback then started stocking low sodium and glucose- and sugar-free products.

"We saw the need was growing in the community," Rinehart said.

People would bring lists their doctors had given them of things they needed. He got requests for Healthy Choice and Weight Watchers brand food and organic pizzas.

He said 12 feet of the produce section holds certified organic products. Rinehart said he'd probably have more except that certified organic is hard to find.

The grocer also said it pays to have the freshest possible meat and produce. Frequent deliveries cost more, but he says it's worth the expense.

Shoppers will also find reasonably priced BGH-free milk at Dick's, which he said is a hormone commonly found in milk.

"We really find customers look for the healthiest thing in the store," he said.

Rinehart said Dick's doesn't pretend to be an all-natural food store, but taking part in the How to Be Heart-Smart series prompted him to get another of his promotional ideas off the ground: Dick's now tags its healthier options.

Rinehart said he stocks the organic and low-sodium products right along with all the others so that shoppers don't have to go to another part of the store for the healthier items. The tags make those items easier to find.

He thinks the heart-smart educational series represents part of a bigger health-conscious movement across the nation.

Rinehart said about the increased awareness and demand for healthier products: "I think it's going to mushroom into something really, really positive in our country."

Reach Debbie Griffin at or 426-1048.