Heart Attacks in Young Women and How Diet Plays a Role

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD 

Heart attacks in young women are on the rise, raising concerns about the poor nutrition of young adults, as well as the challenges in identifying heart disease in women vs. men.  

According to a recent study in the journal Circulation that tracked hospitalizations for heart attacks over 19 years, the incidence of heart attacks increased in young women but not in young men (1). 

Heart attacks often occur as the result of heart disease. Risk factors for heart disease include obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The young women in the Circulation study were more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes compared to men, which may partially explain why they had a higher rate of heart attacks (1). 

Other major risk factors for heart disease include physical inactivity and consuming a diet that lacks nutritious whole foods, while being high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and sodium.  

What’s more, women are more likely to experience heart attack symptoms that are not well known. They may feel extreme fatigue, lightheadedness, and pain in the neck and jaw instead of, or in addition to, jarring chest pain. Some women may not even know that they are experiencing a heart attack and therefore delay treatment (2). 

The fact that more young women are experiencing heart attacks, which are often associated with getting older, emphasizes how important it is to develop healthy habits in all phases of life.  Furthermore, it is crucial to learn how to identify the lesser known symptoms of heart attacks in women.  

Nutrition for Optimal Heart Health 

All young adults, not just young women, can benefit from improving their diet for better heart health.  

A heart healthy diet includes fruits and vegetables, lean proteins (poultry, eggs, beans), unsaturated fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil), and low-fat dairy products. Eating a variety of these foods will provide you with adequate amounts of nutrients and other beneficial compounds that fight disease, such as antioxidants.  

In addition to incorporating nutritious foods, engaging in regular physical activity can is good for the heart. If you are just getting started with exercising, try doing something that you enjoy, such as walking with a friend, jogging around the neighborhood, playing tennis, or swimming laps.  

Small changes to your diet and exercise routine can add up to big benefits for your heart, and can even prevent heart disease and heart attacks.  

Note from Healthy For Life Meals: Our meals are loaded with heart healthy foods, including fresh produce, lean proteins, nuts and seeds, avocados, and dairy. Get started with HFLM today and show your heart some love! 

Stef Keegan