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Many people think of heart disease as only a problem for men, but women get heart disease too. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States and the primary cause of disability among women.
Major risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and being overweight. The main cause of heart disease is coronary artery disease, the narrowing of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. This disease develops slowly and is a major reason women have heart attacks.
But there are a few things women can do to lower their risk of heart disease, including staying physically active, eating fruits and vegetables, reducing saturated fats, and increasing good fats.
But making healthy changes to your diet can be easier said than done. To help get you started, we’ve asked Sarah Samaan, M.D., cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - Plano, to suggest a few heart healthy choices to add to your next grocery list.
Item 1: Walnuts: Hungry for a mid-morning snack? Walnuts include moderate amounts of heart-healthy fat and can help decrease risk factors for heart disease. Dr. Samaan suggests eating one ounce a day to help lower your cholesterol. An ounce is equivalent to 14 walnut halves, and provides between 160 to 200 calories, so it’s important to take the calories into consideration as well.
Item 2: Whole grain cereal: Research shows that those who consume 2.5 servings of whole-grain foods a day have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke.
Item 3: Skim milk: One cup of whole milk has almost 5 grams of saturated fat, whereas skim milk has only .0125 grams of saturated fat. “Foods with high levels of saturated fat should be eaten less frequently as saturated fat raises the level of cholesterol in your blood,” says Dr. Samaan.
The National Institutes of Health reports that for every 10 percent reduction in cholesterol, your risk for heart disease is reduced by about 20 percent. Ask your doctor about a lower target for your cholesterol level.
Item 4: Garlic: Use garlic as a substitute for salt to help cut down on the amount of salt in your diet. A recent study showed that those who reduced their salt intake, lowered their risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 25 percent. Garlic can also help lower blood pressure, and treating high blood pressure may lower risk of heart attack and stroke.
“Blood pressure is usually articulated as two numbers, for example: 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). High blood pressure is considered: 140/90 or above. But your risk of heart disease is still raised if your blood pressure is between 120 -139 over 80-89, known as prehypertension. Weight loss, regular exercise and healthy eating are all ways to help lower blood pressure. Your doctor may also recommend blood pressure medicine,” says Dr. Samaan.
Item 5: Salmon: Choose salmon instead of steak, which has saturated fat and is high in calories. Salmon has high levels of omega-3s which may reduce a woman’s risk for cardiac arrhythmias and coronary heart disease. Omega-3s also help stop the formation of clots and serve as anti-inflammatories.
Item 6: Olive oil: Changing the type of fat you eat is a key to heart health. Avoid high levels of saturated fats, and include more monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Dr. Samaan adds that one easy way to do this is to use olive oil instead of vegetable, palm or corn oil. Olive oil contains some good fat, monounsaturated fat, and consuming about 2 tablespoons of olive oil each day may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Item 7: Margarine spray: Substituting margarine spray for butter will help reduce calories and saturated fat. Margarine spray typically has 1 calorie per spray whereas butter has 100 calories per tablespoon and over 7 grams of saturated fat.Reducing calories in your diet is key to heart health as being overweight or obese increases your blood pressure and cholesterol and places you at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Even a modest weight loss of 10 pounds can lower your risk.
Item 8: Fruit: Eat an adequate amount of fruit appropriate to your energy needs. Two cups of fruit per day are recommended for a 2,000-calorie diet.
If this list looks overwhelmingly healthy to you, that’s ok. Dr. Samaan encourages you to try making one healthy adjustment to your grocery list each week. Every small change you make, makes a difference for your heart.
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