Did you know that after menopause, women are at a hight risk of heart disease? Estrogen is a really protective hormone. It protects our bones, brain, heart, you name it! And with estrogen levels on a downward trend during perimenopause and menopause, your risk for cardiac diseases can see an uptick. Not to panic you, but it’s important for you to pay extra attention to your heart health. An easy way to do this is to incorporate healthy foods into your diet to reduce the the risk of heart attack and stroke. The good news is that this doesn’t mean you have to eat bland, boring food. There are a ton of heart healthy foods that taste great!
During menopause, eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and fibers is an easy way to keep your heart healthy. And choosing the right foods like fatty fish, leafy greens, nuts, berries and whole grains has never been easier. Let’s break it down into bite-sized pieces:
Incorporating heart-healthy foods into your diet can significantly improve cardiovascular health. Make sure your meals and snacks include:
Vegetables and Leafy Greens
Vegetables and leafy greens are the superstars of heart health, brimming with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help fend off heart disease. Take spinach and kale, for example—not only are they rich in vitamin K, but they’re fiber powerhouses that help to sweep away unwanted cholesterol.
Veggies like beets are loaded with nitrates, which research shows helps to keep blood pressure down. In fact, research suggests that indulging in a cup of nitrate-rich veggies daily could be a game-changer for reducing heart disease risk.
And as you enjoy your greens, their soluble fiber turns into a sticky net that captures excess cholesterol and escorts it out of your system. For a heart-loving feast, turn to champions like spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and green beans.
Protein is a powerhouse macronutrient built from amino acids. These are essential not just for energizing your day but for repairing and building your bones and muscles. More than that, it’s a key player in heart health. By choosing healthy proteins from both plant and animal sources, you’re setting the stage for a heart-friendly eating plan that can help lower your risk of heart disease.
Ready to give your heart the nutrients it craves? Aim to include a variety of proteins in your meals: fish, like salmon, mackerel, and tuna for those omega-3s and fatty acids that fight inflammation. Nuts and legumes for fiber and minerals, poultry for lean strength, and low-fat dairy for calcium and vitamins are also key to your heart healthy diet.
Women should aim for about 46 grams of protein a day, which translates to about 10–30 percent of your daily calories coming from protein.
Fruits and Berries
Fruits and berries are treasure troves of vitamin C and antioxidants, They play a crucial role in your body, helping to slow down or even prevent the buildup of plaque in your arteries. The berry family, in particular, is celebrated for its polyphenols, micronutrients, and fiber. And studies show that they could improve cardiovascular risk profiles.
When you’re looking to support your heart with fruit, consider adding these champions to your diet:
- blueberries for a burst of antioxidants,
- red grapes for their heart-friendly resveratrol,
- pomegranate for its blood pressure-lowering effects,
- apples for a fiber-rich snack,
- avocados for healthy fats,
- mangos for a tropical source of vitamins,
- blackberries for their dense micronutrient profile,
- and cherries for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Fat plays a whole lot of roles in keeping you energized and healthy. It powers your body, cushions your organs, fuels cell growth, helps maintain cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and aids in the absorption of essential nutrients. Avocado and olive oil, for example are known for their ability to lower the levels of LDL while boosting HDL. And let’s not forget about the mighty omega-3 fatty acids. Found in abundance in fish like salmon and mackerel, omega-3s are vital for heart health. They tackle plaque buildup in your arteries head-on and play a significant role in reducing triglycerides – those pesky fats in your blood that you’re better off without.
Whole grains are your go-to for a fiber-rich diet. Something we all could use more of. Unlike their refined counterparts, which are often stripped of this essential nutrient, whole grains come packed with dietary fiber. This powerhouse component is your ally in improving blood cholesterol levels and slashing the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and even type 2 diabetes.
Stay away from refined grains like white flour and bread, and germed corn meal. Instead opt for stars like oats, quinoa, and brown rice,They rich in polyunsaturated fats, fiber, and nutrients essential for keeping your heart in top shape.
Nuts and Legumes
Nuts and seeds, like the ever-popular almonds and flaxseeds, are not just a tasty snack; they’re packed with heart-healthy nutrients. Their satisfying crunch brings along fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fats, a trio that works wonders for your heart by boosting blood lipid profiles and dialling down inflammation.
And there’s a growing body of evidence pointing to the benefits of a plant-based diet, especially one that includes a generous helping of legumes. Embracing these nutrient-rich foods is proving to be an effective strategy for lowering the risks associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Foods to Limit or Avoid
Now you know what to eat – and there are a ton of options! So avoiding these next list of foods, shouldn’t be too hard.
As we’ve mentioned, it’s important to keep an eye on your intake of saturated and trans fats. You’ll find saturated fats lurking in fatty cuts of meat (sausages and deli meat), full-fat dairy delights, and certain oils. While trans fats often sneak into baked goods, snacks, and anything fried. The American Heart Association recommends leaning towards lean meats. Also opt for olive oil, a healthy unsaturated fats, whether you’re cooking up a storm or jazzing up your salads.
While sodium is essential for normal bodily functions, excessive sodium intake can lead to increased blood volume and elevated blood pressure. This increases your risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Gradually reducing your daily salt intake can help lower blood pressure. And since most diets are high in salt, even if you’ve got normal blood pressure, you can probably benefit from reducing your salt consumption.
About 80% of the salt we consume is derived from processed foods, including fast foods, pre-packaged meals, processed meats, canned soups, bottled dressings, packaged sauces, condiments, and salty snacks like chips and crackers. Instead, you can elevate flavors using a variety of salt-free spices to maintain heart health.
Processed Foods and Refined Grains
Processed foods and refined grains like white bread, regular pasta, and many breakfast cereals can negatively impact your heart health. They lack the fiber, vitamins, and minerals necessary for a balanced diet and are often full of trans fats.
High Sugar Content
Consuming too much sugar is also bad for your heart health. The impact of added sugar intake includes higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. All of which are associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
To safeguard your heart health, it’s essential to be mindful of foods with added sugars, such as sodas, desserts, and certain breakfast cereals. Reading food labels can help you make informed choices about your diet.
But be mindful that there are over 60 different names for sugar, so it could be hidden on the label. Watch for ingredients containing syrups (e.g., corn syrup, rice syrup). Or those with names ending in “ose” (e.g., fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose). And of course, any product with “sugar” in its name (e.g., raw sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, confectionary sugar).
Tips for Sustaining a Heart Healthy Lifestyle
With a little practice, maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle can be easy. Here are a few tips to help you stay on track:
Understanding and controlling portion sizes is a good place to start for a heart-healthy diet. Stick to recommended serving sizes. For example, a single serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.
The Mediterranean Diet
A lot of cardiologists recommend the Mediterranean diet for a healthy heart. It emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Replace butter with healthy fats like olive oil, and use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods. This diet is rich in vitamins and minerals and includes moderate amounts of fish and poultry.
Regular Physical Activity
Complement your food choices with regular physical activity. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, as recommended by the American Heart Association. Activities like brisk walking or cycling can strengthen your heart and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Managing Stress and Sleep
Chronic stress and lack of sleep can negatively impact your heart health. Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help manage stress. Ensure you get 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to help your body restore and regulate heart health.
Start by integrating one or two of these strategies into your life. And before you know it you’ll be on your way to heart-healthy lifestyle. Remember, consistent practice and small changes can lead to significant benefits over time.
Ready to dive in? Try some of my favourite and super easy heart healthy recipes:
The intent of this information is to provide the reader with knowledge to support more efficient and effective communication with their medical providers. This information is not intended as medical advice.