Photo: Child and Mother holding a Red Heart

by Sabra Leomo, RD

Is there anything quite as warm and wonderful as a mother’s heart? Whether you are a Mom, Aunty, Sister, Grandma or a caring friend, as females we tend to take care of those around us. While caring for others we often don’t have the time or energy to make our own health a priority. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States and many of the risk factors are modifiable -- meaning there is something you can do about them. Here are a few heart-healthy tips to incorporate into your life:

Cut Added Sugar

Research links high intake of added sugars with the development of cardiovascular risk factors such as increased blood lipid levels and high blood pressure. Sugar is added to so many foods and beverages and many people consume more sugar than they realize. To help get a handle on added sugar consumption, check out the updated Nutrition Facts Label on the foods that you buy. Some labels (Mandatory new labels proposed for July 2018) now include “Added Sugars” so it is easier to determine how much sugar is added to your food. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of added sugar per day.

Add Healthy Fats

Limit saturated fats and trans-fats, which can increase your risk for heart disease by raising levels of bad cholesterol. Replace saturated and trans-fat with heart-healthy fats in moderation, such as olive oil, avocado, and nuts.

Reduce Salt

Excess sodium in your diet can contribute to high blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries and cause the heart to work harder. Most of the salt that we consume is found in packaged foods. Focus on eating fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes that don’t have any added sodium. When picking pre-packaged foods look at the Nutrition Facts Label and compare the amounts of sodium. Check the “% Daily Value” on the right hand side of label.  Foods that have 5% or less of your daily sodium intake are good options while foods with 20% or more are high and should be avoided.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fill half of your plate with delicious and heart-healthy fruits and vegetables. The American Heart Association recommends 5 servings of veggies and 4 servings of fruit a day. Seem like a lot? Don’t stress. Slowly add fruits and vegetables to your day, small changes add up! For breakfast add berries to your yogurt, oatmeal, or cereal. Cut-up veggies make great crunchy snacks. Roast a large tray of veggies to enhance their natural sweetness and pack them with lunches for the workweek.

Manage Stress

Everyone is different when it comes to stress -- what makes you feel stressed and how you manage it. Find healthy ways that work for you to reduce stress. Whether its exercise, laughing with a friend, meditation, or writing down positive things in your life, find what works for you and de-stress.

As you go through your daily routine remember to take time eat healthy meals, manage stress and take a little time for yourself so that you are able to care for the ones that have your heart.