Heart Health Nutrition Tips for Go Red for Women
Get your red outfit out! The first Friday of every February is National Wear Red Day to raise awareness of heart disease in women. Heart disease kills approximately one woman every 60 seconds. I bet most of you didn’t know that. We’re too busy juggling work, family and social obligations to think about our hearts. And it’s always been thought of as a disease for older men. But it’s the number #1 killer of women! The American Heart Association created Go Red For Women to dispel the myths and raise awareness of heart disease & stroke in women. This post is for you ladies … read on to learn diet/lifestyle tips to decrease your risk of heart disease (main pic credit)
Here are a few more scary stats to make you think again:
– 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease
– Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen
– The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women vs. men, and are often misunderstood
– Heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year – more than all cancers combined.
The good news: You have the power to dramatically reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by following a healthy diet and lifestyle. A diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains is your first defense against the onset of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. I know most women are constantly on the run, so planning the perfect diet is no easy feat. And when we do think about diet, we’re probably more focused what we should CUT BACK on (like calories, carbs, gluten, GMOs, etc) versus what we should be adding in for heart health. But forget about having the “perfect” diet … just try some of these easy changes. And keep in mind that heart health is no longer about villanizing a single nutrient – like what we did in the past when it came to saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. Now we know it’s more about an overall healthy diet!
Here are my top 13 nutrition and lifestyle tips to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease:
1. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables: Goal: least 4.5 cups a day. Most of us aren’t even close to this. Eating on the run makes eating veggies especially challenging! They contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals that keep our blood vessels healthy.
– Tips to increase: Add berries to oatmeal, cereal, smoothies or yogurt, keep cup up veggies on hand to snack on, add veggies to omelets, soups, salads. Make sure to have a big portion of vegetables every dinner. Grab a fruit for an afternoon snack.– Read my blog post on top 20 ways to add in vegetables and fruits.
2. Eat fish (preferably oily fish, like salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and tuna) 2-3x/wk. These fish contain omega 3 fats (EPA, DHA) which are anti-inflammatory and keep blood vessels healthy. They can also help lower triglycerides (fat in the blood) which are a risk factor for heart disease.
– Tips to increase: Add tuna or salmon to a salad, enjoy sushi/sashimi (*choose a reputable place and certain people should not eat raw fish), try to cook fish 2x/wk or at least order in a restaurant. Choose wild salmon when possible (canned salmon tends to be wild). Chunk light tuna contains less mercury than albacore. Consider a fish oil supplement if you don’t eat fatty fish 2-3 times a week
3. Include whole grains in your diet. Whole grains have been linked to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. But … many women are a bit on the carb phobic side. While I’m certainly not suggesting you gorge on bagels and pasta, aim for at least three 1-ounce servings of whole grains a day. Steel cut oatmeal for breakfast and an average serving of quinoa for dinner would meet your needs.
Tips to increase: Read labels for the word “whole” in the ingredient list or the yellow whole grain stamp on the labels, choose whole grain breads, crackers and cereals or try a different whole grain such as quinoa, millet, freekah or barley.
4. Increase your intake of fiber rich foods. We consume an average intake of 15 grams of fiber a day. But our goal is a minimum of 25 grams. In addition to helping keep us regular, fiber can lower cholesterol, aid in weight loss, improve gut health and help lower blood sugar. But eating adequate fiber takes some effort.
Tips to increase: Add bran, chia or flaxseeds to yogurt, oatmeal or smoothies, add legumes to salads and soups, choose whole grain cereals and breads, get in your 4 ½ cups of veggies/fruits a day. See my previous post on Fiber and Heart Health to find out the fiber content of food.
5. Consume nuts and seeds. Your goal is least 4 (one oz) servings a week, opting for unsalted varieties whenever possible. Nuts are one of the heart healthiest foods I can think of. They also are linked to decrease risk of diabetes and weight management.
Tips to add in: Add nuts to oatmeal or yogurt, snack on them during the day or add to salads. But remember portion control if you are watching your weight as 1 oz = ~ 170 calories. Try the 100 calorie mini bags if you have trouble with portion control!
6. Cut back on sodium: The goal is to consume less than 1,500 mg a day (or 2300 mg at the most).
Tips to decrease: Read labels for sodium content. 70% of our sodium content comes from processed foods vs added salt a the table. If you eat on the run, check out online nutrition info for sodium content of your favorite restaurants. Some sandwiches and soups have close to 2000 mg of sodium on one serving!
7.Limit/avoid processed meats: No more than two servings a week. These foods have been linked to heart disease and cancer.
8. Limit added sugar. Women should aim for no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. Even if you avoid sweetened beverages and adding sugar to your coffee, chances are that you are consuming more than you think.
Tips to decrease: Read food labels! Sneaky sources of added sugar are found in granola and energy bars, sports drinks, smoothies, juices, yogurt, cereal, and healthy sounding sugars like agave and honey. See my previous blog post on added sugar.
9. Avoid trans fat. These fats raise LDL and lower HDL cholesterol. NYC has already banned and by 2018 they’ll be taken out of all processed foods as per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
10. Choose more unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado over saturated fats. Most experts are still recommend to limit your intake of saturated fat to 7% or less of total calories. However newer research is suggesting saturated fats are not the “bad guys” as we once thought when it comes to heart disease. So for now, don’t go overboard on red meat, butter, full fat dairy and chicken skin. (My personal opinion is that moderation is fine!)
11. Get adequate sleep. Inadequate sleep is linked to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.
Tips to increase: I am the “queen of sleep issues” and know getting more sleep is easier said than done! Try setting small goals to get more sleep. Start by going to bed 30 minutes earlier. Turn off the computers and tv at least one hour prior to getting into bed. Ideally, try to read in bedcut down on screen time and set up a sleep schedule for yourself. And this means no IPads or cellphones in bed!
12. Exercise on a regular basis. Exercising keeps the heart and blood vessels healthy. It also reduces stress, risk of diabetes and many other diabetes and can help with weight control.
13. And best of all … red wine and dark chocolate can easily fit into a heart healthy diet. They have both been shown to have heart health benefits … in moderation of course!
Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on a sample meal plan for a Heart Healthy Diet! February is National Heart Month.
I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.