Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women and may be underdiagnosed and undertreated. As women go through perimenopause and menopause, their risk for heart disease accelerates because of the loss of crucial sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) that protect the heart. Adopting a heart attack proof diet and focusing on nutrition for women's health are essential steps in addressing this issue.
February is American Heart Month and an excellent opportunity to discuss women’s heart health. You can prevent many cases of heart disease (and other chronic diseases) with healthy lifestyle choices, including good nutrition. These are habits you can adopt at any time in life and are beneficial support through perimenopause and menopause. Let’s dive into a diet for a healthy heart!
Heart Health Myths
A primary myth about heart disease is that it’s a man’s problem. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Since the 1980s, more women have died from heart disease than men. And as discussed, going through menopausal hormone changes adds fuel to the fire. In women between the ages of 40 and 60, over 80% have at least one risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, sedentary behavior, elevated LDL cholesterol, and poor diet. Nutrition is foundational for heart health and particularly for women's health nutrition.
Another myth is about testing. Years ago we thought HDL (known as “good”) cholesterol was positive and even therapeutic. In fact, drug companies even sold pharmaceuticals aimed at increasing HDL levels but after seeing that not only did it not help but it actually hurt, this was removed from the market. What is important is how HDL functions, not the level of it in the blood. Unfortunately, we can’t test for this. What can we test for? LDL – C (known as “bad”) cholesterol. Important research shows that elevated LDL and to a lesser extent, triglycerides, are what matter most in predicting risk of heart disease. The goal should be around 60-70 mg/dl for LDL because it’s at this level that atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) is essentially avoidable. While your doctor may tell you not to worry until your LDL is above 100 mg/dl, by this point the disease has already progressed. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Especially when there are lifestyle modifications such as a diet for a healthy heart that can help! This is where eating your way to health aligns with our core mission at Scott’s Protein Balls.
Plant-based Diets and Heart Disease Prevention
Research points to the power of plants for heart disease prevention. Whole, unprocessed plant foods are good sources of:
- Fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar
- Plant-based fats, which support cardiovascular health and function
- Phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals to support cardiometabolic health, provide antioxidants and reduce inflammation
Women who eat more plants in their diet have a lower risk of heart disease because of the protective qualities of plants as well as the replacement of animal protein with heart-healthy plant proteins like soy, legumes and nuts/seeds. This is a key aspect of the heart attack proof diet. Read more about the benefits of plant-based diets here.
You can still be an omnivore and benefit from including various plant foods in your diet. The Mediterranean diet is an excellent template to start with. In fact, consuming omega-3 rich fatty fish like salmon and sardines is a critical aspect of heart health. If you don’t like seafood or it doesn’t align with your ethics you can simply take a fish oil or algal supplement instead. But, you do need to ensure adequate intake of these essential fats.
Food to Eat for Heart Health
It’s often easier to focus on the foods to add to your diet as you make changes. Here are some heart-health foods to include:
- Cold-water fish – salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring etc.
- Seeds – chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, etc.
- Nuts – cashews, almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, etc.
- Legumes – peanuts, soybeans, chickpeas, etc.
- Whole grains – oats, quinoa, wild rice, etc.
- Olive oil, avocados and oil and canola oil
- Colorful fruits and vegetables (lots of them)
Food to Avoid for Heart Health
Adding more heart-healthy foods to your eating plan will naturally displace some of the less beneficial, processed foods. Foods to reduce or avoid include:
- Trans-fats – check labels and avoid these 100%
- Processed meats – hot dogs, salami, jerky, etc.
- Excess animal protein – red meat, poultry, wild game
- Refined flour and carbs – chips, cookies, pastries, etc.
- Products with added sugar – check labels for hidden sugars in peanut butter, salad dressings, tomato sauces, yogurt, etc.
- Sugary beverages – soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, etc.
Nutritional Tips for Maintaining Healthy Blood Pressure
Shifting towards a whole food diet and away from processed foods will naturally support healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Too much sodium and sugar in the diet, without the balancing minerals (potassium and magnesium) from plant foods can contribute to blood pressure imbalances.
Restore balance by adding more dark leafy greens, fruits, tubers, nuts, seeds, and legumes to your diet. Managing caffeine and alcohol intake and staying hydrated is also supportive.
Heart-Healthy Meal Planning for Busy Individuals
If you want to adopt a heart-healthy eating pattern by including more whole foods and plants in your diet, it means cooking more at home. Packaged convenience foods and typical restaurant food are the worst offenders for using ingredients (like sugar and inflammatory oils) that may not support heart health. Yet, cooking more can be challenging when life is busy. Here are some ideas to make it easier:
- Prepare simple meals with quality ingredients – no need to overcomplicate it
- Subscribe to a meal kit or meal delivery service from a company that uses high-quality, heart-healthy ingredients
- Batch cook on the weekends and utilize leftovers throughout the week
- Use convenience items like pre-chopped vegetables, salad kits, canned beans, etc.
- Find restaurants in your area that use quality ingredients. Ask about ingredients in your favorite dishes
- Read labels and choose the best option in each category
- Stock up on Scott’s Protein Balls for heart-healthy snacking anytime
Heart health needs to be at the top of mind regarding women’s health and disease prevention. Let Scott’s be a part of your heart-healthy diet by providing a convenient source of plant-based fats, fiber, and phytonutrients from quality ingredients like nuts and seeds, aligning perfectly with the principles of nutrition for women's health.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What are the key nutritional factors for women's heart health?
For women's heart health, focusing on a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats is key. Don't forget to include foods high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, and try to limit saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium. Staying hydrated and managing portion sizes are also important for keeping your heart happy and healthy.
How does a woman's risk for heart disease change with age?
As women age, their risk for heart disease tends to increase, especially after reaching menopause. This is because menopause brings about changes in hormone levels, particularly a drop in estrogen, which is believed to have a protective effect on the heart. Additionally, age-related factors like changes in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body composition (such as increased abdominal fat) can also contribute to a higher risk of heart disease.
In this context, nutrition plays a crucial role in managing and mitigating these risks. Eating a heart-healthy diet that's rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help manage weight, lower blood pressure, and improve cholesterol levels. Reducing intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and processed sugars is key to keeping your heart in good shape as you age.
So, while age and menopause are factors that can increase a woman's risk for heart disease, adopting a nutritious diet and incorporating healthy snacks like Scott's Protein Balls can be a powerful way to counteract these risks and keep your heart strong and healthy.
What is the impact of plant-based diets on women’s heart health?
Switching to a plant-based diet can be a game-changer for women's heart health! It's packed with nutrients that help keep your heart strong, like fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and it's lower in saturated fats. This kind of diet can help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Plus, it's a delicious way to eat your way to a healthier heart.
Can certain foods reduce the risk of heart disease in women?
Eating certain foods can really make a difference in reducing heart disease risk for women. Think colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, dark chocolate and seeds, along with fatty fish rich in omega-3s. These foods are not only delicious but also packed with heart-healthy nutrients that can help keep your ticker in top shape!