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Cut risk of heart disease by eating more of the right foods
Know risk factors for heart disease, and eat with your heart in mind

Date published: 2/1/2009

ABOUT 80 percent of middle-age women have at least one risk factor for heart disease, but changing their lifestyle could reduce risks by 80 percent.

That's according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which is sponsoring National Wear Red Day on Feb. 6. On that day, Americans are encouraged to wear red clothes to raise awareness of the fact that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women. (It's also the No. 1 killer of men.)

In this column, I'll share information about foods that can shield your heart. But first, a little detail about what causes heart disease.

Risks for heart disease in women, according to the NHLBI, are:

age 55 or older

a family history of heart disease in a father or brother before age 55, or in a mother or sister before age 65

high blood pressure

high blood cholesterol

diabetes

smoking

being overweight or obese

being physically inactive.

The same factors apply to men, except that the risk of developing heart disease starts 10 years earlier, at age 45.

Fortunately, there's more than one eating plan that can help your heart.

All the proven plans tend to be low in saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables. Either a standard low-fat plan or a Mediterranean plan--which is higher in heart-healthy fats such as olive oil--can reduce risks of heart attacks by about 30 percent, according to international research.

The first step in reducing your risks, though, is knowing them--so ask your doctor about your numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Most doctors recommend healthy eating and exercise, even if you need medications, too.

Beat blood pressure

Ideally, your blood pressure should be lower than 120/80. This applies to men and women. Blood pressure of 140/90 is considered high, and anything in between is considered pre-hypertension by the NHLBI.

Be aware that pregnancy, birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy may increase blood pressure, according to the NHLBI.

If your blood pressure is above 120/80, consider the DASH plan, short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It has been proven to lower blood pressure.


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HEART-HEALTHY FOODS

Here are the top 10 foods I recommend for a healthy heart:

Fish, grapes, strawberries, kale (substitute cauliflower if you take Coumadin), almonds, olive oil, soy foods such as tofu and tempeh, oats, beans and peas, dark chocolate or cocoa.

-- Jennifer Motl

Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin.