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  health > heart > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Nutrition and heart disease in women

May 11, 1999
Web posted at: 11:36 AM EDT (1536 GMT)


RISK FACTORS FOR HEART DISEASE
Smoking
Elevated cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels
Sedentary lifestyle
High blood pressure
Obesity
Family history of heart disease
Age >55 (women)


In this story:

Combined forces

Importance of folate

HDL vs. LDL

Triglycerides

RELATEDSicon



By Miriam Nelson

(WebMD) -- To understand the relationship between nutrition and heart disease in women, you need to consider the risk factors for heart disease and how diet affects those factors.

Combined forces

A diet that is high in nutrient-rich foods (such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and low in fats, saturated fats and simple sugars, contributes to desirable cholesterol and triglyceride levels, adequate nutrition, and decreased risk of heart disease.

Getting enough exercise also reduces your risk for heart disease, and alleviates obesity as well as high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (see charts for desirable levels).

Importance of folate

Folate, a B vitamin naturally found in leafy green vegetables, orange juice, beans, and wheat germ, helps reduce the risk for heart disease. This is in part because folate lowers blood levels of homocysteine -- which in high levels can be very dangerous to the health of your heart. Homocysteine levels vary depending on genetics and nutrition, decreasing with greater intake of food that contains folate, and increasing with high consumption of meat and dairy products.

Current guidelines urge all adults to consume 400 micrograms of folate each day. For pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant, 600 micrograms a day is recommended. Adhering to these guidelines is easy since most breads and cereals are fortified with folate. But the importance of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains goes far beyond folate alone.

HDL vs. LDL

Total cholesterol consists of two types: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is called "bad cholesterol," while HDL is often called "good cholesterol." Having some cholesterol in your blood is normal, but it's important to watch where your LDL and HDL levels fall.

LDL cholesterol clogs your arteries; the higher your LDL levels, the worse. High levels of HDL, on the other hand, lower your risk for heart disease. Women's HDL levels tend to be above 45, which is considered favorable. To decrease LDL and increase HDL, you should reduce total dietary fat and saturated fat, eat more soluble fiber, maintain your ideal body weight, increase physical activity and reduce dietary cholesterol. Modest intake of alcohol has also been shown to increase HDL levels.

Triglycerides

High levels of triglycerides -- a type of fat found in the bloodstream -- are considered a risk factor for heart disease. Excess body weight and heredity are often causes for high triglycerides. However, simple sugars and refined flours, such as those found in cookies, pretzels and pasta, raise triglyceride levels in some people. To lower triglyceride levels, reduce total fat and saturated fat intake, consume less sugar, avoid alcohol and eat more fish.

Women should be wary of the fat-free, high-sugar, processed foods that are so abundantly available these days. Eat more of the foods that help you look better, feel better -- and maybe even live longer.

Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved



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