Heart-Healthy Diet for Women

March is both Women’s History month and National Nutrition month. It’s a good time of the year to pay attention to women’s health in a more constructive way. Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in women, according to a 2017 CDC report1. One in 4 women in the United States dies of heart disease, while only 1 in 30 dies of breast cancer. Within 6 years of having a heart attack, about 46 percent of women become disabled with heart failure. Astonishingly, two-thirds of women failed to make a full recovery after a heart attack2. The risks of heart disease and heart attack increase dramatically after a woman reaches menopause. One in 8 women between 45-64 years old suffers some form of heart disease and the number jumps to one in 4 for women are over 65 years old. Therefore, it’s pertinent to tackle this long-ignored problem, especially for women.

Good progress has been made and continued to be making. The American Heart Association (AHA) launched a movement in 2004, Go Red for Women®, which has reached great success in increasing awareness for heart health in women. Through their relentless efforts in education, innovation, health equity, research development, women are more engaged in preventing and fighting heart disease in the recent decades. Clinical research on cardiovascular disease starts to identify sex difference effects on drug response to help physicians develop a more targeted treatment for women3,4.

To have a healthy heart, besides avoiding some known risk factors such as smoking, drinking and obesity, dietary intervention is one of the most attenable, yet effective ways to live a healthy life. AHA made several educational infographics to promote healthy eating habits. For instance, the figure on the right gives simple suggestions on how to increase diversity of your food choice. It emphasizes the importance of fruits and vegetable consumptions. There are more infographics in the AHA website, if you are interested in learning more, please check it out. Many healthy eating suggestions are developed to combat cardiometabolic diseases. In general, fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts are good for your health, while too many calories, processed food, too much salt/sodium, added sugar, trans-fat and saturated fat are bad for you.

Research shows that Mediterranean diet can reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases5. Table 1 on the right represents a breakdown of Mediterranean diet5. Most of recommended foods are considered general healthy foods. Another study suggests that Mediterranean diet decreases incidences and mortality from coronary heart diseases and stroke in women6.

How to decide which healthy dietary pattern you want follow? Eating index was developed to help evaluate healthy eating habits. Four major indexes including Healthy Eating Index-2015, Alternate Mediterranean Diet Score (AMED), Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index (HPDI), and Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI) all show reduced incidences of cardiovascular disease with healthy eating patterns7. If you have trouble deciding which eating habit you want to develop, just follow the general recommendation first. After all, a little bit of deviation won’t change the overall benefits. The key is to stick to it and keep consistent.



  1. Heron M. Deaths: Leading Causes for 2017. National vital statistics reports : from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. 2019.
  2. Sandmaier Marian A4  – National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute MA-S. The healthy heart handbook for women. 2005:1 online resource (106 pages) : illustrations (some color)-Other US.
  3. Jin X, Chandramouli C, Allocco B, Gong E, Lam CSP, Yan LL. Women’s participation in cardiovascular clinical trials from 2010 to 2017. Circulation. 2020.
  4. Scott PE, Unger EF, Jenkins MR, Southworth MR, McDowell TY, Geller RJ, Elahi M, Temple RJ, Woodcock J. Participation of Women in Clinical Trials Supporting FDA Approval of Cardiovascular Drugs. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2018.
  5. Anon. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a mediterranean diet. Zeitschrift fur Gefassmedizin. 2013.
  6. Fung TT, Rexrode KM, Mantzoros CS, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Mediterranean diet and incidence of and mortality from coronary heart disease and stroke in women. Circulation. 2009.
  7. Shan Z, Li Y, Baden MY, Bhupathiraju SN, Wang DD, Sun Q, Rexrode KM, Rimm EB, Qi L, Willett WC, Manson JAE, Qi Q, Hu FB. Association between healthy eating patterns and risk of cardiovascular disease. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2020.


“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


Women’s History Month: Cardiology Edition

Somehow it’s already March, which means it’s Women’s History Month, so I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the many amazing cardiologists and researchers (who also happen to be women) who have shaped our field.

Last month, I wrote about the importance of science outreach, especially with regard to promoting science and cardiology to young girls and women, because women still make up around only a third of scientific researchers and only around 13% of cardiologists are women. To learn more, Renee P. Bullock-Palmer’s most recent blog is a great resource.

This month I wanted to highlight some of the women who paved the way for the rest of us.

Now, unsurprisingly, simple Google searches for things like “scientists who shaped cardiology” or “most famous cardiologists” provide results that are pretty male and pale. There weren’t that many pieces that included women in their lists of cardiologists/researchers, and there were only a handful of sources I found that focused specifically on women. Lucky for you, I’ve collected what I found here! I’m also going to highlight several of the brilliant women who shaped our field – this is by no means an exhaustive list of amazing women in cardiology (or their accomplishments) because there are too many to fit on one list.


Maude Abbott, MD was a Canadian physician who invented an international classification system for congenital heart disease in the 1930’s. Her work the Atlas of Congenital Heart Disease became the definitive reference guide on the subject.


Helen B. Taussig, MD, FACC is widely regarded as the Founder of Pediatric Cardiology. In the 1940’s she developed the operation to correct the congenital heart defect that causes “blue baby” syndrome. She received the Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon B. Johnson and was the first female president of the American Heart Association.


Myra Adele Logan, MD was the first woman (and only the 9th person!) to operate on a human heart in 1943.


Marie Maynard Daly, PhD was first African American woman to obtain a PhD in chemistry in the United States, whose research in the 1950’s was invaluable in demonstrating the relationship between high cholesterol levels and heart attacks.


Celia Mary Oakley, MD was one of the first women cardiologists in the United Kingdom and was part of the team that coined the term hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in the late 1950’s.


Sharon A. Hunt, MD was just one of seven women in her 1967 medical school class and she went on to revolutionize the field of heart transplantation by working to improve survival rates by identifying and treating rejection and determining how to reduce the side effects of the drugs.


Nanette Kass Wenger, MD, was among the first cardiologists to focus on heart disease in women, and to evaluate the different risk factors and manifestations of the condition, specifically coronary artery disease, in women and men. I was lucky enough to talk with her about her work at AHA Sessions 2018, which I wrote about here. You can also follow her on twitter @NanetteWenger.


Christine Seidman, MD, is a researcher who transformed the field of cardiovascular genetics with her research that uncovered the genetic basis of many human cardiovascular disorders, including cardiomyopathy, heart failure and even congenital heart malformations.


Elizabeth O. Ofili, MD, MPH, FACC is a clinical scientist who led the effort to implement the landmark African American Heart Failure Trial (AHEFT), whose findings improved the practice guidelines for the treatment of heart failure in African Americans. She also became the first woman president of the Association of Black Cardiologists in 2000.


Ileana Piña, MD, MPH, FACC is a nationally renowned cardiologist known for her work in heart failure and improving patient rehabilitation outcomes. Her work has also upturned preconceived notions about women in the medical community and she works tirelessly to get more women into clinical trials.


Rong Tian, MD, PhD is a leader in the field of cardiac metabolism whose work has been translated to clinical trials. Among her many contributions, she was the first to demonstrate that AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) acted to remodel cardiac energy metabolism, which critically informed the heart failure field. You can also follow her on twitter @Rongtian2.


I want to note, that these cardiologists and researchers are not important just because they are women – they are talented scientists and cardiologists who happen to also be women. But pieces like this are important because representation matters. It’s important for everyone, especially young girls and women, to see that it’s possible not just to be successful in this field, but also to revolutionize it.


Helpful sources & suggested reading: