Nutrition For the More Experienced African American Woman

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Heart Disease

Heart Disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States and African American women are more likely to get this disease than any other race. African American Women are 35% more prone to getting Heart Disease than non-Hispanic white women. This can be due to the fact that African American women have higher rates of obesity and being overweight, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Just by leading a healthier lifestyle, women can lower their rates of getting heart disease by 82%. Women are more likely to get heart disease after menopause because their body no longer produces estrogen. Middle age is the time when most women tend to develop other risk factors related to heart disease.

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is a broad term used to describe a range of diseases that affect your heart, and in some cases, your blood vessels. The various diseases that fall under the umbrella of heart disease include diseases of your blood vessels, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects).

The term "heart disease" is often used interchangeably with "cardiovascular disease" — a term that generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as infections and conditions that affect your heart's muscle, valves or beating rhythm also are considered forms of heart disease (MayoClinic Definition).

How Your Heart Works

The normal heart is about the size of a person’s fist and it is a pump made of muscle tissue. The heart has four chambers. The upper two chambers are the right atrium and left atrium, and the lower two are the right ventricle and left ventricle (see Figure A in diagram). Blood is pumped through the chambers, aided by four heart valves. The valves open and close to let the blood flow in only one direction.

The four heart valves are: 1. the tricuspid valve, located between the right atrium and the right ventricle 2. the pulmonary (pulmonic) valve, between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery 3. the mitral valve, between the left atrium and left ventricle 4. the aortic valve, between the left ventricle and the aorta. Each valve has a set of "flaps" (also called leaflets or cusps). The mitral valve normally has two flaps; the others have three flaps.

Dark bluish blood, low in oxygen, flows back to the heart after circulating through the body. It returns to the heart through veins and enters the right atrium. This chamber empties blood through the tricuspid valve (B) into the right ventricle.

The right ventricle pumps the blood under low pressure through the pulmonary valve into the pulmonary artery. From there the blood goes to the lungs where it gets fresh oxygen (C). After the blood is refreshed with oxygen, it's bright red. Then it returns by the pulmonary veins to the left atrium. From there it passes through the mitral valve (D) and enters the left ventricle.

The left ventricle pumps the red oxygen-rich blood out through the aortic valve into the aorta (E). The aorta takes blood to the body's general circulation. The blood pressure in the left ventricle is the same as the pressure measured in the arm.

Obesity and Overweight

About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese. From 2003-2006, African American women were 70% more likely to be obese than Non-Hispanic White women. In 2007, African Americans were 1.4 times as likely to be obese as Non- Hispanic Whites. Age-adjusted percentage of persons 20 years of age and over who are overweight or obese, 2003-2006. Smoking The smoking rates among African American women usually increases during their 20s and then decreases later on. The fact that African American women smoke a lot during their earlier years is a major contributing factor to them having heart disease later on in life. This also contributes to the fact of black women being continuous smokers at more experienced ages.


Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert food, sugar, and starches into energy that individuals need daily. Diabetes occurs when the body does not correctly use or make insulin. There are two major types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 Diabetes occurs when the body completely does not produce any amount of insulin. Type 2 Diabetes occurs when the body improperly uses the insulin, or does not produce enough of it. African American women age 20 years or older have type 2 diabetes, and about 1 in 4 African American women over the age of 55 has diabetes, which they more than likely experience blindness, amputation, and kidney failure. Twice the rate of white women. There is suggested research that shows that many African Americans carry a gene that predisposes them toward impaired glucose tolerance, one of the risk factors for diabetes.

How do I know if I am experiencing a heart attack?

If you are experiencing a heart attack, you will have the following problems: • pain or discomfort in the center of the chest for more than 20 minutes • pain or discomfort lasting more than 20 minutes in other parts of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach • other symptoms, including shortness of breath (feeling like you can't get enough air), breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), or feeling faint

Other symptoms you may have include: • unusual tiredness • trouble sleeping • problems breathing • indigestion (upset stomach) • anxiety (feeling uneasy or worried)



In order for you to help decrease your risk of getting heart disease you should do the following: 1. Exercise: You should try and exercise for at least 30 minutes daily. If not daily, try to exercise most days of the week. Small exercising strategies can make a big improvement as well: taking the stairs and walking to your destinations. 2. Eating Healthy: Eat whole-grain foods, vegetables, and fruit. Choose lean meats and low-fat cheese and dairy products. Limit foods that have lots of saturated fat, like butter, whole milk, baked goods, ice cream, fatty meats, and cheese. Eat fish at least twice a week, particularly fatty fish. Choose fats and oils such as liquid and tub margarines, canola, corn, safflower, soy bean and olive oils.


Trans fats are unsaturated, but they can raise total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol. Trans fats result from adding hydrogen to vegetable oils used in commercial baked goods and for cooking in most restaurants and fast-food chains. Examples are cookies, crackers, donuts, French fries, and etc.

Fats That Raise Cholesterol Examples Dietary cholesterol,foods from animals, meats, egg yolks, dairy products, organ meats (heart, etc.), fish and poultry

Saturated fats

foods from animals,whole milk, cream, ice cream, whole-milk cheeses, butter, lard and meats, certain plant oils,palm, palm kernel and coconut oils, cocoa butter

Trans fats

partially hydrogenated vegetable oils,cookies, crackers, cakes, French fries, fried onion rings, donuts

Fats That Lower Cholesterol

Polyunsaturated fats,certain plant oils,safflower, sesame, soy, corn and sunflower-seed oils, nuts and seeds Monounsaturated fats,certain plant oils olive, canola and peanut oils, avocados

Search Your Heart Program

The American Heart Association’s Search Your Heart program is a community-based educational program/tool to reach high-risk audiences. It was built to encourage people to take action and reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke. Since its beginnings in 1996, over 15,000 churches across the country have participated in the Search Your Heart program and it has reached over 1.5 million at-risk participants. The program provides people with information about how to go about reducing the risks of heart disease, by talking about nutrition and physical wellness.


1. African American Women and Diabetes: “National Organization for women foundation, All information provided by the American Diabetes Association.” Posted Sept. 10, 2002. Data Retrieved: September 22, 2009

2. “Definition of Heart Disease” by Mayo Clinic Staff, Jan. 28, 2009 © 1998-2009 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Data Retrieved: September 23, 2009

3. “Education about heart disease is crucial for African-American women” Data Retrieved: September 23, 2009

4. Minority Women's Health Data Retrieved: September 22, 2009

5. “Obesity and African Americans” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: The Office of Minority Health Content Last Modified: 7/24/2009 3:22:00 PM Data Retrieved: September 23, 2009.

6. Smoking Data Retrieved: September 28, 2009.

7. The Heart Truth For Women: “The Heart Truth For African American Women: An Action Plan”. NIH Publication No.07-5066. Originally Printed September 2003, Revised December 2007. Data Retrieved: September 22, 2009

Further Info Recommendations

1. NHLBI Health Information Center Phone: 301-592-8573 TTYL: 240-629-3255

2. American Heart Association Phone: 1-888-MY-HEART

3. Women Heart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease Phone: 202-728-7199

4. Office on Women’s Health U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services National Women’s Health Information Center Phone: 1-800-994-WOMAN TTYL: 1-888-220-5446