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Follow these tips for a heart-healthy diet



While heart disease is often thought of as a “men’s health” problem, about the same number of women die from heart disease in the United States as men. In fact, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of mortality for American women.


One of the main differences between men and women when it comes to heart attacks is the symptoms. Understanding your risk factors and strategies for prevention is key to improving your heart health. Since February is American Heart Month, there is no better time than now to learn the facts of heart health and put them into practice in your life.

According to many cardiologists, both men and women can experience the typical signs of heart attack, which include chest pain or pressure that radiates to the shoulders, arms, neck and jaw and shortness of breath. However, women can have different and sometimes more subtle symptoms than men, or even no symptoms at all. Atypical heart attack symptoms experienced by women include discomfort, nausea, lightheadedness, fatigue and indigestion. Women with these atypical symptoms are less likely to seek immediate medical assistance, which is a problem because every second counts when responding to a heart attack.

Postmenopausal women have a heightened risk of heart disease due to the body’s decreased production of estrogen. While we may not have control over some heart disease risk factors like family history of heart attack and stroke or age, the good news is that many risk factors are lifestyle related, and therefore controllable. Some of the lifestyle-related risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, inactivity, stress, smoking and poor diet.

Elevated blood cholesterol levels can lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Blood cholesterol levels can be managed by focusing on consuming the right kind of fat. You can do this first by limiting your intake of saturated fat — the fat found in mostly animal products like bacon, cream, butter and lard — to less than 7 percent of your daily calories consumed, so less than 14 grams for the average person. At the same time, choose more foods rich in unsaturated fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil and fish, which are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids known to benefit the hearts of healthy people and those at high risk of cardiovascular disease.

Fish is among the best natural sources of omega-3 fats. And beyond heart health, hundreds of peer-reviewed studies reinforce the multifaceted health benefits of eating fish, with supporting evidence from recommendations outlined by leading health organizations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the World Health Organization. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends at least two to three 4-ounce servings of a variety of fish per week. Everyone, including pregnant women, can benefit from incorporating a variety of fish in their diets like salmon, canned light tuna, cod, sardines, herring and trout.

Fiber also plays an important role in lowering cholesterol, managing weight and regulating blood pressure. Choose whole grains with at least three grams of fiber per serving and replace refined white grain products with heart-healthy whole grains like wheat, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, buckwheat, rye and oats when purchasing cereals, breads, pastas and rice. Other great sources of fiber include vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds.

Portion control is a foundation principle in a heart-healthy diet that promotes weight management. Use tools such as measuring cups, a food scale or a Web-based food log app to help you be more accountable for the amount of food you consume. Eating less total calories and more low-calorie whole foods will help you curb excess sodium, consume more essential nutrients and achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Here are some more tips to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle:

• Increase your physical activity level and strive for 10,000 daily steps or about 2 1/2 hours weekly of moderate intensity exercise for most adults.

• If you smoke, talk to your physician about a plan to quit.

• Read food package labels for sodium levels and choose low-sodium foods with less than 140 mg sodium per serving.

• Incorporate stress-relief activities into your routine like yoga, meditation, relaxation and positive socializing.

• Limit alcohol intake to one drink daily, and if you don’t drink, don’t start.

LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian, provides nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations including the National Fisheries Institute. She can be reached at [email protected]

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