Heart disease is the number one killer of women, and according to the National Institutes of Health, one in four women in the United States will die from heart related diseases. While some of the risk is hereditary, there are several important steps all women should take to reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke.
Most important is to quit smoking if you are a smoker. Cigarette smokers are 2–4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking will double a person’s changes of having a stroke. Also important is to get daily exercise, which helps to strengthen all muscles, including the heart and lungs, as well as the cardiovascular system.
Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a heart healthy diet is also essential for reducing the risk of heart disease. A diet low in sources of saturated fat from cheese, cream or ice cream, butter and red meat can help reduce cholesterol. In addition, eating more of the following foods has been shown to help reduce cholesterol and risk for heart disease:
Oats –An excellent source of cholesterol lowering soluble fiber, a ¾ cup serving of oats daily has been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by up to ten percent.
Walnuts – most nuts are an excellent source of heart healthy unsaturated fat, and they are great to eat in moderation. Walnuts in particular have not only unsaturated fat, but also omega-3 fat, and antioxidants. Eating an ounce and a half of walnuts (a large handful) each day has been suggested to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.
Avocado - Several research studies are currently underway to determine the effects of eating avocado on coronary artery disease, but past studies suggest that this fruit can be helpful. Avocado contains a healthy dose of monounsaturated fat and plant sterols, which can help to reduce LDL cholesterol.
Salmon – Although there have been several controversial studies on fish oil supplements recently, this protein is still worth eating. Both wild and farmed salmon have high levels of omega-3 fats, which have several cardiovascular benefits. They have been shown to reduce triglycerides (a fat found in the blood), and blood pressure. Omega-3 fats can also help keep blood thinner and prevent plaque formation, and they have anti-inflammatory properties, which help to keep blood vessels more elastic.
Legumes – dried beans like kidneys, black beans, lentils and garbanzos are great sources of soluble fiber, which, like oats can help to reduce bad cholesterol. Beans are also a good source of protein, calcium, and they have some omega-3 fats.
Berries – whether you like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or cranberries, they are all extremely high in antioxidants, and good for you. Recent research out of Boston showed that women who eat strawberries and blueberries (both of which are high in anthocyanin) three times each week may have a lower risk of heart attack.