(ĐTĐ) - If you consider heart disease a man's disease, it's time to reconsider -- especially if you have rheumatoid arthritis. Post-menopausal women have a rate of heart disease two to three times higher than younger women. For women with inflammatory diseases like RA, the risk is even greater, making a heart-healthy lifestyle – including healthy food choices – even more important.
Wondering how the answer to "what's for dinner?" (as well as lunch, breakfast, and snacks) can influence your heart disease risk and your arthritis? Read on, and follow these guides for making the best food choices:
Eat to Fight Inflammation
In women with RA, the same inflammatory process that makes your joints sore, hot, and swollen may contribute to artery-clogging atherosclerosis and the formation of clots, which ultimately may lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Research shows that certain foods contribute to inflammation, while others help fight it. Foods that may contribute to inflammation include those high in omega-6 fatty acids, found in corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and cottonseed oil. They are prevalent in many snack foods, fried foods, and margarines as well as in meats and egg yolks.One study by Ohio State University researchers found that people who consumed much more omega-6 – compared to another type of fatty acids called omega-3 that are found in fish and olive oil – had higher levels of inflammatory chemicals in their blood.
Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, may reduce inflammation. Good sources include cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and herring. Omega-3s may lessen joint pain, shorten the amount of time that morning stiffness lasts, and even enable some people with arthritis to reduce their dose or stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). To get more omega-3s in your diet, try adding about two 3-ounce servings of seafood to your menu each week.
If you don’t like fish, supplements are also an option. But check with your doctor first to make sure they won’t interfere with your medication.
Another inflammation-fighter that might surprise you is fiber. Although researchers have known that fiber is heart-healthy, it also appears to lower inflammation. Studies suggest it reduces C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation found in the blood. A high CRP level can be associated with rheumatoid arthritis or heart disease. Stock up on fruits, vegetables, and other high-fiber foods.
Eat to Lose or Maintain Weight
Losing weight – if you need to – or maintaining a proper weight gives you a double benefit: It lowers your risk of heart disease and the pressure your body puts on painful joints. If you are overweight, losing weight may also help reduce inflammation, because fat cells produce inflammatory chemicals.
The recipe for maintaining a proper weight is simple, although it isn't always easy: Start by figuring out how many calories you need each day and don't eat more than you can burn off in a day. If you want to lose weight, of course, you'll need to eat less than you burn. Get in the habit of checking calorie amounts in the foods you eat. The labels on packaged goods, many cookbooks, web sites, and even cell phone applications give the calorie counts of common foods. Use them to make a meal plan and be conscious of what you eat. Keeping a food diary for a while can help.
In general, stay away from fatty snacks and fill up on whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables that have lots of fiber. High in nutrients and low in calories, these foods will help you feel full. And that will help you control your weight, in addition to being good for your overall health.
Eat to Control Cholesterol
Before menopause, women appear to get a boost in HDL "good" cholesterol thanks to the hormone estrogen. Estrogen also appears to help control levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol. After menopause, when the estrogen benefit disappears, it's even more crucial to eat healthy foods to keep your cholesterol levels in check.
The main cholesterol culprits in your diet are foods high in saturated fat, including some meats, butter, cheese, and whole milk. Processed foods, too, tend to contain high levels of saturated fat.
Here's are some numbers to shoot for, according to the American Heart Association:
Total fat: 25%-35% of your daily calories. For someone eating 1,200 calories, that's between 33 and 47 grams of fat.
Saturated fat: Less than 7% of daily calories, or 9 grams of saturated fat.
Trans fat: Less than 1% of daily calories or less than 2 grams.
Cholesterol: Less than 300 mg per day. If you already have high LDL blood cholesterol levels or are taking cholesterol medication, you should consume less than 200 mg of cholesterol per day.
Fiber: 25 to 30 g per day, preferably from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Eat to Combat High Blood Pressure
You can help control blood pressure by cutting back on salt in your diet. Aim for less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
If you drink, do so in moderation -- for women, that means not more than one drink a day.
Eat to Maximize Nutrients
Just eating enough food so that you're not hungry does not mean you are getting the nutrients you need to be healthy. Nutrient-rich foods are chock full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients but are lower in calories. To get the nutrients you need, choose foods like vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products most often.
Read labels carefully -- the Nutrition Facts panel will tell you how much of those nutrients each food or beverage contains.
By taking the time to consider your food choices, you may find the answer to "What's for dinner?" can have big benefits for both your arthritis and your heart.