Best disease-prevention tips for women

Apr 6, 2011 at 10:29 a.m. ET

When you hear the word “diet,” your mind likely goes right to “weight loss,” then maybe you start to think about your skinny jeans, or the warm weather and the ever-creeping swimsuit season. But where your mind should go when it hears that four-letter word is much more important than just having a smokin’-hot bod -- at the top of your priorities should be keeping your body healthy.

Woman drinking after workout

Heart disease is a woman killer

According to the American Heart Association, there are 42.7 million women living with some form of cardiovascular disease. The Coalition for Women with Heart Disease further points out that heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women, and although more women die of cardiovascular disease each year than do men, ladies are less likely to receive appropriate treatment after a heart attack than men.

Diabetes is often a silent disease

While heart disease is scary, so is diabetes, and the stats of women diagnosed with the disease are growing. The American Heart Association reports that 8.2 percent of all women over 20 (about 10 million) have been diagnosed with diabetes. Furthermore, 33.4 million women have pre-diabetes, and 2.7 million women have diabetes but don't know it yet.

Diet is a key in disease prevention

Thankfully, changing some of your daily habits -- including what you eat -- can help you knock some of these numbers down. Along with exercise, a change in your diet can substantially lower your chances of heart disease and diabetes. Health experts Lindsey Toth, MS, RD, and Holly Patiño, owner of offered a few tips to get you on the right track -- and perhaps the next time you hear "diet," you'll think "health."

Trade in the bad fats for the good

This swap means substituting your double-cheeseburger or T-bone for a succulent fillet of baked salmon. Even though dark meat, bacon, sausage and pepperoni might tickle your taste buds, they ooze saturated fat and should be avoided to help you lower your cholesterol. Your body will thank you for helping it fight disease, as, Patiño points out, "salmon is loaded with health omega-3's."

Toth notes other heart-healthy fats that should be included in any women's diet, particularly if you're looking to lower your cholesterol: polyunsaturated fats in nuts like almonds and pecans, canola and olive oil, as well as avocados. Not be forgotten are the monounsaturated fats that can be found in salmon, mackerel, walnuts, sunflower oil, soybeans and tofu.

Lose the sodium, keep the flavor

Woman cooking with herbs

If you've been told your blood pressure is too high, you've also likely been told to cut some of that salt out of your diet. This can be particularly challenging -- it may feel as if you're being punished by stripping the flavor from you meals. But our health experts point out that this just isn't true. "Reducing sodium is not necessarily a death sentence for your taste buds! You just need to learn how to utilize herbs!" says Patiño.

Cook with fresh ingredients

The first step women should take is cooking with fresh ingredients. The processed food that often comes canned, frozen or prepackaged has got to go. Instead, Toth suggests replacing the salt you crave with lemon, lime, garlic powder and other herbs. "We crave salt because our taste buds are so used to it -- once we start to cut back, our taste buds readjust and find the flavors that salt had been masking all along!" she says.

Be generous with herbs and spices

Patiño added that when you learn how to cook using fresh or dried herbs, reducing sodium is a cinch. One of her favorite dishes is a rosemary potatoes recipe that uses garlic powder, rosemary and Redmond's Sea Salt – which is actually good for you, unlike processed salt. "This one dish is packed with flavor and won't leave someone feeling deprived," she says.

Be menu savvy and speak up

Both experts agree that you can still go out to eat on a low-sodium diet -- you just have to be more aware. Check the restaurant's website to see if it has nutrition facts available, ask for no salt or butter when you order and have your salad dressing on the side.

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