February is an interesting month. It’s the month we’re reminded to love our heart…. And show love for others we cherish, usually in the form of chocolate. Hmmm, can those two actions coexist? Yes, but in moderation of course!
Go Red for Women is the national movement of the American Heart Association to raise awareness that heart disease and stroke is the number one killer of women. Wait, WHAT?!
That’s the number one myth; most believe cancer is the biggest threat to a woman’s health, but it’s actually heart disease. Heart disease and stroke cause 1/3 of deaths in women. That’s one woman dying every 80 seconds.
Here are some other common myths about women and heart disease:
“Heart Disease won’t affect me—I’m too young!”
Heart disease affects women of all ages. Young women increase their risk greatly by smoking while on the Pill. Some women escalate their risk by being overweight, eating the opposite of heart-healthy and by drinking too much alcohol. Others have an underlying condition they were born with but may not know about.
“I won’t get heart disease! I exercise!”
While exercising regularly keeps your heart fit, it can’t totally compensate for other lifestyle habits like stress, smoking and poor eating habits.
“I don’t have heart disease—I’ve never felt better!”
Did you know 64% of women who die suddenly of a heart attack had NO previous symptoms? Crazy but true. And what often throws people off is that the symptoms of a heart attack in women are sometimes different from men. Extreme fatigue is one symptom—which is easy to overlook because women are often so busy taking care of everyone else, they put themselves as the last priority!
“I can only eat chicken breast and fish on a heart-healthy diet.”
A variety of protein sources is your best bet, and that not only includes vegan options, but also eggs, lean pork and beef! Research from Pennsylvania State University showed a 10% decrease in LDL cholesterol in people following the BOLD diet, which included 4 to 5 ounces of lean beef daily. The BOLD Diet (Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet) lowered cholesterol as much as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.)
Yes You Can- Prevent Heart Disease!
No matter your age, it’s never too late to start on the road to healthier heart health.
Know Your Numbers.
Total and HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and BMI. If your numbers don’t meet the goal, make a plan.
See your Care Provider.
Even when you feel healthy, an annual checkup is the best way to track your numbers. Be sure to follow up with your primary care provider or a specialist if referred.
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet.
Veggies and fruits should fill half your plate, followed by a variety of lean protein and whole grains. Eating fish at least twice a week is also a plus for heart and brain health. Going meatless regularly also has health benefits. Low fat dairy like milk and yogurt are good for bone health and blood pressure. Keep tabs on sodium; with a goal of less than 2,300 mg per day. Watch portion sizes and keep saturated fat, trans fat and processed foods to a minimum. Get closer to your ideal weight if needed.
Eat Your Chocolate.
Flavonols, the antioxidants in cocoa, benefit both blood pressure and heart health. The secret is eating the write type of chocolate in the right (read moderate) amount. (In other words, don’t eat that molten chocolate cake with whipped cream for dessert in the name of heart health!) Dark chocolate and undutched cocoa have the most flavonols—limit to one ounce a day. And here’s a healthy quick bread recipe from chef and registered dietitian Katie Cavuto at www.nourishbreathethrive.com. Enjoy!
Need Inspiration for a heart-healthy dinner? Try this recipe for Szechuan Beef Stir Fry, courtesy of The Beef Checkoff.
Sidebar: Hard to Recognize Heart Attack Symptoms
Well known heart attack symptoms include chest pain and radiating discomfort in the left arm. But there are symptoms that are harder to recognize—and some are more common in women. Besides the ones listed below, trust your intuition. If you just don’t feel normal, get checked.
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular pain in the lower or upper back
- Jaw, neck, arm or stomach pain.
- Nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, breaking into a cold sweat
- Extreme fatigue