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Good Nutrition: Defense Against Heart Disease

 

by the Go Red For Women Editors

When you’re juggling family, career, an education and other responsibilities, making your own nutritional needs a priority may seem impossible. This was the case for Myrna Aguilar, a single mother who always put her son’s needs first, even to the neglect of her own health.

Each year around her birthday, Myrna saw her doctor for a routine physical where everything “seemed fine,” until one particular visit. “You may want to start doing things differently,” her doctor suggested. With a family history of heart disease looming, these gentle words were all the motivation Myrna needed to make permanent changes.

Heart disease claims the lives of more than 400,000 women each year – about one per minute. That’s about the same as the next three most common causes of death combined. The good news is that you have the power to dramatically reduce your risk, and a diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, lean 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, like salmon): At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce servings a day
  • Nuts, legumes and seeds: At least 4 servings a week, opting for unsalted varieties whenever possible

Other dietary measures:

  • Sodium: Less than 1,500 mg a day
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: Aim to consume no more than 450 calories a week
  • Processed meats: No more than two servings a week
  • Saturated fat: Should comprise no more than 7 percent of your total calorie intake

If you don’t know how many calories you should be consuming, we can help. Taking into account your age, height, activity level and weight (or desired weight), use this tool to calculate your daily caloric need. You may also 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 completely.

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.