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Heart Health for Women

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: May 10, 2022

Reviewed: February 19, 2024

Heart Health for Women
Juanmonino/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death in both women and men. Diet, lifestyle choices and a few other key factors play a big role in a wide range of heart conditions. Take care of your heart by choosing foods to promote overall health.

Fruits and Vegetables Matter

When it comes to filling your plate, fruits and vegetables are where it's at. Not only are they sources of dietary fiber and antioxidants, they also can 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 provide potassium and magnesium, minerals that have been shown to help lower blood pressure in clinical studies.

Aiming for 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables daily, is a good way to help meet your potassium goals. Plus, research has shown that fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease.

Fat Matters for the Heart

The type of fat you eat also makes a difference. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating pattern should provide less than 10% total calories from saturated fat starting at age 2. An eating plan high in saturated fat may increase the risk for heart disease. Foods such as bacon, sausages, fatty meats, butter, ice cream and other full-fat dairy foods can be high in saturated fat.

Replacing sources of saturated fat with unsaturated fats has been shown to be beneficial in reducing “bad” cholesterol levels and may help lower the risk for heart disease. Foods such as olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds contain unsaturated fat.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a special type of unsaturated fat commonly found in fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring. Omega-3s also are found in walnuts and flaxseed. Fish is a good source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), whereas nuts and seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Because these foods contain different types of omega-3 fatty acids, it is good to include a variety of these foods among the foods you eat throughout the week. Women who are of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding should consult the “Advice about Eating Fish” from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Stay Active for Heart Health

Regular physical activity also can be beneficial. Get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, with some activity on most days of the week. Maintaining a healthy weight can help manage certain conditions such as high blood pressure. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, everyone varies in how much physical activity they need to maintain their weight.

Other Risk Factors

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

  • Aging: The risk for heart disease increases with age.
  • Family history: Having a close blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with heart disease increases your risk of having heart disease.
  • Ethnicity: Some ethnicities have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Previous heart attack: A history of past heart attacks can increase the odds of having another one in the future. However, in this case, there are things you can do to reduce your risk, such as eating healthfully and participating in cardiac rehab.

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