Women and Heart Health

By Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

February is American Heart Month, and since heart disease is the number one cause of death for women, it’s important to employ strategies now to help prevent it. Simple lifestyle changes, along with getting your numbers checked, can help you stay on top of your heart health.

We know that ninety percent of women have a least one risk factor for heart disease, but only one in five women actually considers heart disease the biggest threat to her health. What makes this topic even more complex is that the signs and symptoms of heart disease can often be a bit different for women than they typically are for men.

Heart disease results from atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of plaque inside your artery walls. Atherosclerosis is a process that occurs over time, but there are ways to prevent it now.

Tips for Heart Health

  • Be sure to get at least sixty minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day.
  • Avoid tobacco.
  • Cut back on heart-damaging saturated fats that are found in animals products such as full-fat dairy, fatty cuts of meat, fried foods, convenience foods and fast foods.
  • Incorporate more heart-friendly unsaturated fats, particularly omega-3 fats found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds.
  • Select foods that are low-sodium or no salt added.
  • Use more herbs, spices, aromatic vegetables, vinegars, & citrus juices to flavor food instead of salt or butter.
  • Consume more vegetables and fruits.
  • Ask about your family history of heart disease or risk factors for heart disease.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. For most individuals (excluding some athletes), aim for a healthy body mass index (BMI).
  • Know Your Numbers
  • Keep your blood sugar under control. A normal fasting blood glucose level is 70-110 mg/dL.
  • Keep your blood pressure controlled – normal blood pressure is 120/80 mm/Hg or lower.
  • Control your cholesterol. A healthy blood cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dL. More importantly, aim for an HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) of 60 mg/dL or higher.
  • Get to a healthy weight and maintain it – a normal, healthy BMI is 18.5-24.9.
  • Monitor triglycerides – a normal level is 150 mg/dL or less, with optimal level less than 100 mg/dL.

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

  1. Pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in middle of chest lasting more than a few minutes, or goes away and returns.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both of your arms, your back, neck, jaw or abdomen.
  3. Feeling short of breath, with/without chest discomfort.
  4. Suddenly breaking out in a cold sweat or feeling nauseous or lightheaded.
  5. While both men and women experience the most common heart attack symptom—chest pain or discomfort—women may be more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, especially shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting or pain in the back, neck, or jaw.

Many low-income individuals are at an increased risk for heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes caused by poor dietary choices. A recent gift from Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals to Operation Food Search is empowering youth with knowledge and skills to select, prepare, and consume healthy, balanced and affordable meals through our “Cooking Matters® for Kids” classes. These classes lay the foundation for a life-long commitment to healthy eating behaviors. Please join us in support of our holistic approach to encourage healthy lifestyle habits for our youth by making an online donation at www.OperationFoodSearch.org.