Heart Health for Everyone

Written by: Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans across gender, race, and ethnicity. It accounts for one in five deaths. 

While you may not have heart disease on your radar, like other chronic diseases, it takes decades to develop. The health habits you create today are your most powerful tools for disease prevention. Genetics plays a role in some heart disease cases, but heart disease is overwhelmingly preventable. 

In honor of American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day, today’s article will dive into heart health and what you can do today to lower your heart disease risks. We’ll answer these burning questions:

  • What is heart disease? 
  • What causes heart disease?
  • What are the risk factors?
  • What’s the deal with eggs and saturated fat? 
  • Does heart disease affect women differently? 
  • How can I reduce my risk?

Let’s jump in!

What is Heart Disease? 
Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is a collection of diseases related to the heart and vascular system. Heart disease includes:

  • Coronary heart disease – the most common heart disease. It affects the ability of the coronary arteries to bring enough oxygen to the heart. 
  • Heart attack – when blood flow to part of the heart becomes blocked; coronary artery disease can be the cause. A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest when the heart stops beating.
  • Heart failure – occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood.
  • Stroke – a blockage of blood flow or bleeding in the brain resulting from a blood clot or plaque.

What Causes Heart Disease? 
To understand heart disease, let’s describe the underlying inflammation in the vascular system called atherosclerosis. It’s a process where plaque builds in the lining of the arteries. As plaque builds, arteries narrow and become less flexible, which leads to heart disease. 

High LDL cholesterol levels in the blood are the building blocks for plaque. High cholesterol is a risk factor for atherosclerosis but not the sole cause. Many people have high cholesterol but don’t develop atherosclerosis, so there must be more to the story. 

Insulin resistance is a significant underlying cause of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Insulin is the hormone that helps move sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into cells so you can make energy. If you’re insulin resistant, cells become resistant to insulin signals, and you’ll see both high blood sugar and high insulin levels. (Interestingly, high insulin leads to high cholesterol too.)

Insulin resistance develops slowly over time because of dietary and lifestyle factors, including blood sugar spikes beyond the body’s capacity. We typically think about insulin resistance in terms of diabetes, but it’s a significant factor in heart disease, too. 

The other underlying cause worth discussing is chronic inflammation. Atherosclerosis is inflammatory, and inflammation from different sources, like gum disease, high blood sugar, or inflammatory foods, also drives inflammation in the arteries. 

Risk Factors 
Heart disease is complex, and multiple factors contribute. Below are some of the factors that increase the risk of developing heart and vascular issues: 

  • Poor diet/processed food diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Elevated LDL cholesterol (especially small, dense LDL particles)
  • High blood pressure
  • High-stress lifestyle 
  • Excess weight for your body
  • Smoking and tobacco use
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Smoking 
  • Poor sleep
  • Genetics 

Many risk factors are modifiable, meaning you can lower your disease risk by changing your nutrition and lifestyle habits. 

Cholesterol, Saturated Fat, and Heart Disease
One of the most common nutrition myths is that you need to limit eggs and other sources of saturated fat and cholesterol to prevent heart disease. This idea goes back to the diet-heart hypothesis of the 1950s and is based on weak evidence. (If this topic interests you, this article offers a short history of how the diet-heart hypothesis led to today’s public nutrition policy.)

Newer evidence, including over 20 scientific reviews, suggests that dietary saturated fat doesn’t affect cardiovascular disease or mortality. Yet, even current nutrition science and recommendations are still biased against saturated fat. 

However, all this is not to say that nutrition doesn’t matter; nutrition absolutely matters. But moving away from ultra-processed foods and towards a balanced whole-food diet is where to focus your energy. Eggs can be a part of the picture for most people: they are a whole, nutrient-dense food with a long history of human consumption. 

As a side note, Twenty2 Nutrition gets a lot of questions about collagen-egg protein regarding cholesterol. You can read some responses here and here for more information. 

Heart Disease in Women 
Heart disease affects men and women, but a woman’s risk doesn’t dramatically increase until menopause. If a woman goes through menopause early or surgically, her risk of heart disease is even higher. Why? There is a hormonal connection. 

Reproductive hormones are for more than reproduction. Estrogen and progesterone support cardiovascular health and keep blood vessels flexible. When these hormone levels decline in women, it leads to a host of cardiometabolic changes. 

A heart attack can look different for women, too. Up to 30% of women won’t experience the classic chest pain and pressure but may have fatigue, nausea, sweating, back pain, or other less traditional symptoms. 

How to Love Your Heart 
If you look at the risk factors for heart disease, you can work backward to create a prevention plan. It may include: 

  • Quitting smoking
  • Being mindful about alcohol (or not drinking at all)
  • Eating whole foods
  • Balancing blood sugar
  • Seeing your dentist regularly
  • Moving your body
  • Managing stress and prioritizing relaxation 
  • Supporting hormone health
  • Prioritizing sleep
  • Monitoring risk factors with your doctor

Let’s dive more specifically into the nutrition piece. Within a whole food framework, some specific foods benefit heart health. These include:

  • High-fiber foods, like legumes, winter squashes, plantains, oats, chia seeds, artichokes, turnips, carrots, apples, etc. 
  • Colorful, antioxidant-rich produce from every color category – red, orange, yellow, green, blue/purple, and white
  • Dark, leafy green vegetables, like collard greens, kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, arugula, etc.
  • Spices and herbs, like turmeric, garlic, hibiscus, rosemary, cinnamon, etc. 

Twenty2 Nutrition supplements fit into a heart-healthy lifestyle. As you dial in the nutrition and lifestyle pieces, consider supplements as an adjunct to help you reach your goals. Here are some ideas: 

  • Twenty2 Nutrition Greens contains organic powdered green vegetables to help you reach (or exceed!) your daily veggie goals. Green vegetables are rich in nitrates that promote nitric oxide production, which dilates (widens) blood vessels. 

With so many Americans affected by heart disease, you undoubtedly have a story of a loved one that comes to mind. February is an excellent time to consider heart health and remember many heart disease risk factors are within our control. Daily nutrition, exercise, good sleep, and other healthy behaviors go a long way to benefit your heart and overall wellness. 

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider before changing your diet or beginning a new supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, take medication, or have a medical condition. 

Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian, functional nutritionist, writer, and recipe creator. Ryah helps clients use a natural, food-as-medicine approach to improve fertility, pregnancy, hormone balance, autoimmunity, and discover a healthy relationship with food and body. Learn more about Ryah and her private practice at econutrition.co.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm 
  2. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/coronary-heart-disease 
  3. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-attack 
  4. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-failure 
  5. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/stroke/causes 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9033871/ 
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7084712/ 
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9061634/ 
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10070800/ 
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9794145/