Growing up in a family of eight kids in a poor neighborhood in Dallas, I remember the aroma of a bubbling pot of beans wafting from every house. Budgets were tight, so the beans, rice and tortillas were mainstays in the neighborhood diet.
I yearned for a different way of life, and traveled two hours daily by public bus to a school across town where my father lived. There I witnessed a different way of eating.
As early as age 12, I remember convincing my mom to make changes, such as substituting vegetable oil for lard in the tortillas she made. Pork tamales at Christmas were made with chicken instead, and she stopped making refried beans.
As an adult, I kept my figure trim, but began gaining weight after getting married in my 40s.
I began eating like my husband and he always wanted burgers and fries and all that fatty stuff.
My father died from a heart attack, and my mom battled health problems for years related to heart disease before dying at 78. Several of my uncles also died from heart attacks before age 70.
It wasn't until my mom expressed regret near the end of her life that she hadn't made lifestyle changes earlier that me and two of my sisters resolved to take bold action and take charge of our health. At the time, my blood pressure was elevated, but did not yet require medication.
I made radical changes to my diet, cutting sodium and refined carbohydrates. My husband may still order burgers and fries, but I stick to salads with lean protein. I am also vigilant about portion size.
I knew in the back of my mind that family history plays a role in heart disease, but I hadn't realized how significant it could be. In addition to my extended family, three of my siblings have high cholesterol and high blood pressure and two have type 2 diabetes.
We just didn't understand how big a role our diet was playing in our health. Everyone was just focused on cooking the same way we always had.
According to the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women campaign, cardiovascular diseases kill nearly 1 in 3 women in a year. That's why at my now age 60, I urge women to learn about their risks for heart disease, especially when it comes to family history. It's important to be aware that 80 percent of cardiovascular disease can be preventable with education and action.
Besides knowing your family history, one of the ways that you can take action to prevent cardiovascular disease, is to learn your risks for heart disease through "Knowing Your Numbers." There are four numbers that all women need to be aware of to take control of their heart health: cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). "Know Your Numbers". It's knowledge that could save your life.
Diet can also control your health. You can make small changes and make a big difference.
In an effort to raise awareness about heart disease in women, I am a longtime American Heart Association volunteer, helping organize health fairs, and working with local efforts for Go Red For Women to help raise awareness about heart disease in women.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women in recognition of National Wear Red Day (Feb. 3, 2017), the aim of which is to raise awareness that heart disease isn't just a man's disease, and 1 in 3 will die. But 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with education, lifestyle changes, and action. To read all the stories in the series, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/heart-disease/. And to follow the conversation on Twitter -- and share a picture of yourself wearing red -- find the hashtag #GoRedWearRed.