Home Heart Health News Heart health for women: Understand the basics

Heart health for women: Understand the basics

7 min read


Mark Mahoney


Guest columnist

Published 3:49 p.m. UTC Jul 9, 2018

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women. What a woman eats and her lifestyle choices play a big part in her heart health.

Other risk factors

While you can change what you eat and whether you exercise, there are some risk factors for heart disease you cannot change. These include:

Aging: As women get older, their risk for heart disease goes up.
Gender: More women than men have heart attacks and strokes as they age.
Family history: If a woman has a close blood relative with heart disease, the chances she will have heart disease are greater.
Race: Black women have a higher risk of heart disease than white women. Their chances of dying from a stroke are also greater.
Previous heart attack: If a woman has already had a heart attack, she is at risk of having another one.

Take care of your heart

Choose heart-healthy foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy, lean protein and heart-healthy fats. Limit your calories by filling up on high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Fiber can help you lose weight and keep the pounds off by filling you up faster and for a longer time.

Fat matters for the heart

The amount and kind of fat you eat makes a difference.

Fat should make up 20 percent to 35 percent of your total calories, but only 10 percent of those fat calories should come from saturated fat.

Research shows that eating too much saturated fat is not good for the heart. Foods like bacon, sausages, fatty meats, butter, ice cream and other full-fat dairy foods contain saturated fat.

Unsaturated fat is a different story. It has been shown to be beneficial for cholesterol levels and overall cardiovascular health. Foods like olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds contain unsaturated fat.

Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fat, have been found to be helpful in preventing sudden death from heart attacks. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring, contain two types of omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The recommended intake for omega-3 fatty acids is 500 milligrams per day. That’s basically two 6-ounce servings of fatty fish per week.

Another type of omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is also proven to have cardiac benefits. Flaxseeds and walnuts contain ALA. Consume two tablespoons of ground flaxseed or one ounce (about a handful) of walnuts each day for heart health.

Fruits and vegetables matter

When it comes to loading your plate, fruit and vegetables are where it’s at. Not only are they low in calories and high in fiber and antioxidants, they can also help keep blood pressure in check.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. What makes fruits and vegetables so good? They are packed with potassium a mineral that has been shown to lower blood pressure in clinical studies.

Aim for 4,700 milligrams of potassium every day for good blood pressure. That’s at least two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables daily.

Slow and steady weight loss

If you are overweight or obese, gradual weight loss offers the best results for overall health. It doesn’t take much to see results; your overall health will improve noticeably with a five to 10 percent drop in weight.

Get at least 30 minutes of regular exercise most days of the week; this will help with weight loss and keep your heart beating strongly.

Reference: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6811 (Revised January 2013)

Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. has been a registered dietitian/nutritionist for over 30 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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