Updated: Nov 8
The good news - heart disease is largely avoidable.
Heart health is a crucial concern for women, especially those undergoing menopause.
While predispositions like diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity remain significant risk factors, evidence suggests that lifestyle changes can make a world of difference. Prominent studies like INTERHEART and EPIC indicate that up to 90% of heart disease can be avoided through simple lifestyle choices.
A Simple Strategy for Good Health
Although individual needs can vary, some overarching guidelines remain relevant for most people. Primarily, managing weight and mitigating inflammation stand out as key aspects of maintaining good health.
Revisiting the Fat Debate: Unmasking the True Enemies of Heart Health ❓
Before we dig into the specifics of heart-healthy eating, it's , it's important to correct a longstanding myth about fats. The prevailing advice for decades has been that to reduce heart disease risk, one should minimise fat intake, specifically saturated fats. Yet, this narrative is beginning to change.
Contrary to popular belief, the main adversaries of cardiovascular health are often not fats at all but rather processed grains and added sugars. The process of refining grains removes essential nutrients, leaving behind a food product high in empty calories and carbohydrates but lacking in nutritional substance. Foods rich in these empty carbohydrates—like white bread, pasta, rice, muffins, and cookies—often make up a substantial part of Western diets and are increasingly being linked to heightened cardiovascular risk.
Interestingly, the effectiveness of some low-fat diets in promoting weight loss is now understood to be, in part, due to the simultaneous reduction in the intake of sugar, refined carbs, and processed foods.
Likewise, added sugars, commonly found in sweets, desserts, fruit juices, and sodas, can seriously disrupt metabolic health. These sugars can lead to sudden spikes in blood sugar levels, which can damage blood vessels and overload the liver, thereby increasing heart disease risk.
That said, there is one type of fat that deserves its bad reputation—trans fats. Trans fats, specifically, have been shown to be extremely detrimental to heart health. These fats, often included in foods to improve their shelf life and texture, have been conclusively linked to higher rates of coronary heart disease. Even a small 2% increase in caloric intake from trans fats has been shown to double the risk.
As you reconsider your dietary choices in pursuit of better heart health, especially during menopause, it's crucial to focus not just on fats but on the real villains: refined grains and added sugars.
A Diet for Heart Health
1. Protein: More Than Just Meat
Incorporate a source of protein into each meal and snack for balanced nutrition.
Protein is essential for a well-balanced diet, but that doesn't mean you have to overload on meat. Embrace vegetable-based protein meals like lentils, legumes, tofu, and quinoa for a more diversified approach.
Ideally opt for two to three vegetable-based protein meals weekly.
Fish Eaters: Make room in your weekly meal plan for wild-caught fish, a stellar source of omega-3 fatty acids, at least twice a week.
2. Fruit & Veg: Span the Rainbow
Prioritise a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, with an emphasis on those that grow above the ground and those native to your region. These types of produce often have less natural sugar or fewer carbohydrates, which can affect hormone levels.
Aim to fill at least half your plate with these foods at each meal.
Strive for a daily total of seven servings, with at least five coming from vegetables. Throughout the week, diversify the colours of the produce you consume to ensure a wide array of nutrients. Opt for items like berries, citrus fruits, peppers, and leafy greens.
Foods like berries, citrus fruits, nuts, and leafy greens are packed with antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, as well as selenium. These vital nutrients help to mitigate the stress associated with cardiovascular diseases.
3. Fibre: The Unsung Hero
Often under appreciated, fibre is an essential component of a diet designed for optimal heart health. It comes in two main types: soluble and insoluble, both offering unique benefits for cardiovascular well-being.
Soluble fibre, present in foods such as oats, lentils, and flaxseeds, plays a pivotal role in lowering harmful LDL cholesterol levels. By binding to LDL particles in the digestive system, it helps to remove them from the body, thereby reducing the cholesterol that circulates in the bloodstream
Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, can be found in foods like nuts and whole grains. It aids in digestive health and can contribute to weight management.
Adding both types of fibre to your diet also offers a host of other benefits, including better digestion and more stable blood sugar levels.
Do what you can to add as much as possible.
4. Healthy Fats: Not All Fats Are Bad
Let’s not forget that fat is actually essential for life.
Healthy fats, particularly those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can help to lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation in the body. Sources of these good fats include avocados, oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, as well as a variety of nuts and seeds like almonds and sunflower seeds.
For those looking for plant-based options, flaxseeds and chia seeds are excellent alternatives.
It's important to remember that fats are also a crucial source of energy and are necessary for the absorption of certain vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
Instead of avoiding fats altogether, consider focusing on incorporating more of the healthier varieties into your diet for better heart health.
5. Carbs: Choose Wisely
The quality and quantity of carbs you consume can greatly influence not only your weight but also your cardiovascular wellness.
Focus on whole-grain options over white, refined varieties; choose sweet potatoes over traditional white potatoes and favour basmati or brown rice over long-grain white rice.
Alternative Options: Experiment with 'Faux Carbs'
For those looking to mix things up or reduce their carb intake, consider incorporating 'faux carbs' into your meals. These include innovative substitutes like cauliflower or broccoli rice, spiralized zucchini noodles (also known as 'courgetti'), and waffles made from butternut squash.
While I find them a bit messy to make - they cook super quickly (a minute!) and not only add a burst of nutrition but also bring diversity to your plate, making it easier to stick to a heart-healthy diet. The spiralizer is my latest gadget!
6. A Note on Processed Meat and Vegetable Oils
Recent years have shed light on the health risks associated with certain foods, notably processed meats and some types of vegetable oils. Studies have shown that processed meats like hot dogs, salami, and canned meats can have a range of negative effects on your well-being, including adverse impacts on heart health. It's advisable to limit or avoid these foods when possible.
Similarly, while vegetable oils like rapeseed may be readily available on supermarket shelves, they are not as heart-healthy as once thought. In fact, the linoleic acid contained in these oils has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
So when it comes to both processed meats and certain vegetable oils, caution is key.
7. The Sugar and Fizzy Drink Pitfall
I am sorry to say but......
Reducing sugar intake is paramount for heart health.
Reserve sugary indulgences for special occasions and steer clear of everyday items loaded with sugar like breakfast cereals, cakes, cookies, and pastries. Don't forget to scrutinise the ingredient lists of jarred sauces, as sugar often hides there.
Steering clear of carbonated soft drinks (other than water) is among the most beneficial steps you can take for your heart's well-being. Not only are these beverages filled with questionable chemicals, but they're also saturated with added sugars. Removing them from your regular diet can significantly boost your cardiovascular health.
**A Quick Note on Salt**
While salt has been linked to high blood pressure, newer research suggests it's not the only culprit. Still, moderation remains key. Try for natural sea salts rich in trace minerals for the best health benefits.
Do you notice a trend in my diet tips?
The focus on is real food.
Aim to reduce is the intake of processed, chemically-altered items. Truly, your body doesn't know what’s going on when you shovel in heavily processed or chemically altered foods.
Adopting this approach is often aligned with a low glycemic load (GL) diet. Such a diet stabilises your energy levels throughout the day, avoiding the erratic highs and lows that can come with other eating patterns.
Conclusion: A Heart-Healthy Menopause Is Within Reach
Going through menopause brings its own set of challenges, but keeping your heart healthy doesn't have to be one of them. By following these easy-to-understand food tips, you're
not merely sidestepping potential cardiovascular dangers; you're setting the stage for a robust, heart-healthy future.
Think of it this way: Your dietary choices today serve as an investment in your future well-being. The more mindful you are about what you consume, the greater the dividends you'll reap in the form of lasting health and reduced medical complications.
It's never too late to start making these vital changes.
I'm here to support you throughout your journey. Feel free to reach out if you need guidance, help staying consistent, or are concerned about other issues you might be facing.
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