March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
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 stay physically active, 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 such as 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 including 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 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 such as 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 including 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 such as 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 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed or 1 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 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables daily.
Slow and Steady Weight Loss for Heart Health
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 5- to 10-percent drop in weight. Get at least 30 minutes of regular activity most days of the week; this will help with weight loss and keep your heart beating strongly.