Women and Heart Disease: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, Calorie Control Council’s Scientific Advisor Robyn Flipse, RD, shared with us her experience with the Go Red for Women event, which helps raise awareness and educate women about heart disease (a leading cause of death in women).  In fact, when we asked the Council’s Medical Advisor Dr. Keri Peterson about some of the common misconceptions related to women and heart disease she noted the following, “Heart disease is often thought of as a man’s disease, however, it is the leading cause of death in women.  In fact, one in 3 women will die of heart-related diseases.”  Dr. Peterson also reminded us, “Women have a slightly smaller heart muscle putting us at a slight disadvantage. Coronary arteries on the heart’s surface are slightly smaller in caliber than a man’s, meaning even a small blockage can clog them.”

Clearly, this is an important issue and today we are hearing from both Dr. Keri Peterson and Robyn Flipse – a doctor/dietitian duo to provide their perspective on how women can keep their hearts healthy.

As a dietitian, how do you take the information and inspirations from the Go Red for Women Event and put that into practice with your clients?

Robyn: When I tell my female patients that more women die each year from heart disease than from all forms of cancer combined it is a very sobering fact. Women spend so much time focusing on the health of their families that they often ignore the things they can do for themselves to prevent illness. So I remind them that when they take better care of themselves they not only serve as a good role model for their children to follow but can remain an active part of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives because they have taken action to prevent heart disease. As a mother and a grandmother myself, I also applaud Go Red for Women® for encouraging every woman to reach out and help inform other women about how we can win the battle against heart disease for future generations.

What is one of the most important things you tell your women patients specifically about heart disease?

Dr. Peterson: It is very important that I educate women to recognize that heart attack symptoms can be different than those seen in men.  Only 30% of women suffer chest pain.  If you do experience chest pain it will be a tight, heavy squeezing.  Women often experience other signs like nausea, jaw pain, fatigue, heartburn, shortness of breath, weakness, sweats and dizziness.

What do you feel are some of the most important things that women can do related to heart health?

Dr. Peterson: I think that it is very valuable to know your numbers.

  • Know your cholesterol- your LDL should be less than 130
  • Know your blood pressure- an ideal reading is 120/80
  • Know your body mass index-it should be between 18.5-25
  • Know your blood sugar

What are some things that you do personally to keep your heart healthy?

Dr. Peterson:I do practice what I preach as a registered dietitian, so eating right, staying active, getting enough rest and managing stress have been part of my heart-healthy lifestyle for over 40 years.  The biggest benefit for me is that my weight has not changed in four decades. When clients hear that they think my meals (and life) must be boring, but it definitely is not. I like to cook so am always experimenting with new recipes, especially ones with different spices that pack a lot of flavor. I find I don’t need much salt in a well-seasoned dish. When I eat out I like to try different cuisines so I can sample new foods to prepare at home. I also grow vegetables and herbs in my backyard and get to enjoy the bounty of my harvest for at least five months of the year. And since I have a sweet tooth, I have learned to use a variety of sweeteners, both natural and artificial, so I can balance the calories in my meals and beverages without giving up the sweet taste I love.

Robyn:  Being that heart disease runs in my family, I make sure that I get my annual physical so that I can keep an eye on risk factors like my blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  I’ve never smoked and try to avoid second-hand exposure as well.  I also go to the gym to stay active and fit.  Eating healthy, nutritious foods is my way of life.  I eat lots of veggies, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado on a daily basis.

As a dietitian what are some of the most important things that you recommend to clients in terms of better eating habits related to heart health?

Robyn: When it comes to changing stubborn eating habits, my advice is always to start small and shoot for long term success rather than quick results. For example, I may suggest a switching from white rice to brown, or whole milk to low fat, or sugar in iced tea to a low calorie sweetener to help my clients gradually adopt healthy new habits that can last the rest of their lives. Replacing large dinner plates and bowls with smaller ones can make it easier to eat smaller portions, while keeping a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter can increase the likelihood of eating fruit as a snack. It’s all about shaping new dietary patterns rather than going on a special diet.

Finally, Dr. Peterson is very supportive of the recommendations made by Robyn Flipse when it comes to prevention and notes, “I think it is imperative that health professionals continue to remind women that by taking steps to prevent and control factors that put them at risk, they will reduce the likelihood of getting heart disease.  For example, eating a heart healthy diet filled with whole grains, vegetables and lean meats should be emphasized.  Keeping an eye on patients’ weights and encouraging them to maintain a healthy weight then following up to make sure they stay on track.  Promote the need to exercise at least 30 minutes a day.  Counsel women on quitting smoking if they smoke and providing tools to help them quit.  All of these preventative measures should be reviewed regularly.”

Thanks to both of these outstanding health professionals for providing their insights and lending their expertise.



Keri Peterson MDKeri Peterson, MD is a medical contributor and columnist for Women’s Health and a frequent guest on NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America, Fox News and CNN. Based in New York City, Dr. Peterson has been in private practice since 1999 and holds appointments at Lenox Hill Hospital and Mount Sinai Medical Center.   With a BA from Cornell University and a Medical Degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, she completed post-graduate training in Internal Medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center and is board certified in Internal Medicine. Dr. Peterson is a member of the American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association, and serves as medical advisor for the Calorie Control Council.


Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.

PHOTO: Courtesy American Heart Association. The American Heart Association is a qualified 501©(3) tax-exempt organization. *Red Dress ™ DHHS, Go Red ™ AHA ; National Wear Red Day® is a registered trademark.
faq2Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners.

Media Contacts