Good Nutrition Defense Against Heart Disease

woman shops for produce

When you’re juggling family, career, an education and other responsibilities, it may seem impossible to make your own nutritional needs a priority. Yet nutrition plays a vital role in both your heart health and overall health.

Heart disease claims the lives of more than 314,000 women in the U.S. each year. That’s almost one in every five female deaths.

The good news is you have the power to dramatically reduce your risk. A diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, plant-based and lean animal proteins, healthy fats and whole grains is your first defense against the onset of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.

As you begin setting nutritional goals for yourself and your family, remember that starting with small but consistent changes can make a big difference in the long run. An adult consuming 2,000 calories daily should aim for:

  • Fruits and vegetables: At least 4.5 cups a day.
  • Fish (preferably oily fish, such as salmon): Two to three servings a week, or 8 to 12 ounces.
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: Three to four 1-ounce servings a day.
  • Protein-rich foods like lean meat, nuts or eggs: Five to six ounces daily. Note that fish also falls into the protein category.
  • Dairy: Three cups daily. (Although the measurement is cups, you also can substitute yogurt or cheese for drinkable dairy products like milk.)

Here are some other dietary measures to keep in mind as you choose what to eat:

  • Sodium: No more than 2,300 mg a day, but ideally try to limit it to 1,500 mg daily, particularly if you are salt-sensitive.
  • Added sugar: No more than 6 teaspoons (or 100 calories daily) for women and children, and no more than 9 teaspoons (or 150 calories daily) for men.
  • Processed meats: Minimize the consumption of processed meats, such as deli slices, bacon, ham, salami, sausages, hot dogs and jerky.
  • Saturated fat: Should comprise no more than 5% to 6% of your total calorie intake
You may want to keep a food journal of everything you consume, including beverages and snacks. Seeing it written down is an easy way to identify high-sugar, high-fat calorie sources that you should reduce or cut out.
Also, if you haven’t before, take the time to familiarize yourself with standard food nutrition labels. You may be surprised by hidden sodium, sugars and fats in the foods you considered healthy.