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Don’t Be a Statistic

Por Claudia M. González MS, RD, LD/N* -

Don't wait until later to begin living a healthier life. Start now. Stop thinking that heart disease only affects men or that you don’t have to worry about it until you get older. Although heart disease commonly strikes women after the age of 65, the process that leads to heart disease can begin much earlier in life.

The term heart disease describes several conditions that relate to the heart and blood vessels. Heart attacks and strokes may come to your mind first. However, high blood pressure (hypertension), angina (chest pain), poor circulation and abnormal heartbeat fall under the category of heart disease as well.

Diet influences a number of cardiovascular diseases, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). A diet rich in cholesterol and saturated fats can cause this and other types of heart disease. Cholesterol can build up in the arteries, and fats can float around in the bloodstream. Gradually, the arteries become narrower, and they can block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

In addition, the risk for heart disease increases with menopause. The level of estrogen, the hormone that protects arteries during a woman’s childbearing years, declines during menopause. Recent studies show that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) doesn’t necessarily slow heart-disease progression in women whose arteries have already narrowed. However, HRT remains a widely used treatment, and every menopausal woman should consult her doctor for the best possible treatment.

Experts know that a healthy diet and exercise decrease and even reverse some forms of heart disease. No single plan exists for escaping heart disease, yet the American Heart Association recommends a low-fat, high-fiber, nutrient-dense diet.

The guidelines of heart-smart eating include:

  • Eat a wide variety of foods to provide the vitamins and minerals you need. Variety doesn’t mean excess calories.
  • Pile on the veggies. Have at least 3 servings a day, preferably 5. They provide excellent sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals-- compounds that may prevent or delay heart disease. 
  • Limit fat to less than 30% of your total calories, with an emphasis on monounsaturated fats found in olive, canola and peanut oils, and in almonds, peanuts and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats (corn, sesame, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils) also fall under the heart-healthy category.
  • Choose complex carbohydrates (starches) found in grains and vegetables over simple sugars (sweets). 
  • Keep protein to 15 to 20% of your total calories. Choose lean meats and small portions. Meat plays a major role in high-cholesterol levels.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes and other nutrient-dense foods rather than processed foods.
  • Stay away from partially hydrogenated oils. They are high in trans fats, which raise LDL cholesterol levels as much as saturated fats do. They also lower protective HDL levels. Margarine, snack foods, crackers, baked goods and fried fast foods all contain trans fats.

Go easy on the salt. It can raise blood pressure, so restrict sodium intake to 2,400 milligrams a day.

  • Avoid salty processed foods.
  • Exercise. Just 30 to 45 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise at least 3 or 4 days a week will improve your heart health. Try running, bicycling, skating, swimming, brisk walking or anything that gets you moving and boosts your heart rate.



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