Around 3.5 million women n the UK have heart disease and menopause increases that risk because of the potential for increased weight and high blood pressure.
Those are factors that can be addressed, but if you want to optimise your heart health then there are some foods that need to be included in your everyday diet.
The American Heart Association put together a list of 25 of the best foods to protect your heart and blood vessels, so how many do you regularly include on your shopping list?
The benefits here are from omega-3 fatty acids, which can decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias), lower triglyceride levels, and slow the growth of plaque in the arteries, and slightly lower blood pressure.
Try to include salmon twice a week and it is versatile, grilled or poached as it is or added to pasta or rice.
Ground flaxseed also has omega-3’s, along with both soluble and insoluble fibre, and lignans, which have both plant oestrogen and antioxidant qualities.
Ground flaxseed can be mixed into just about anything you normally eat. Sprinkle it on your breakfast cereal, on top of low fat yogurt or combine into your smoothies.
Oatmeal is another good source of those omega-3 fatty acids and fibre. It’s also full of nutrients including magnesium, potassium, folate, niacin, and calcium.
Oatmeal is a filling breakfast, and you can top it with fresh berries for an even more heart-healthy meal.
4. Black or kidney beans
Beans have lots of soluble fibre, B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate, magnesium, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids so very good for your heart.
You can put them in soups, stews, or salads, or make a meal out of them.
Almonds are a great heart-healthy snack that contain plant omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, fibre, heart-favourable mono and polyunsaturated fats, and plant sterols.
Almonds are easy but just be sure the almonds are raw or dry roasted, rather than roasted in oil, and keep portion sizes in mind. Though they are heart-healthy they are also high in fat and calories and should be eaten in moderation.
Like almonds, walnuts contain plant omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, folate, fibre, heart-favourable mono and polyunsaturated fats, and plant sterols.
Also like almonds, walnuts are a good addition to salads but again, keep walnut portion sizes in mind as the same restrictions on quantity apply.
7. Red Wine
Red wine contains types of flavonoids called catechins and resveratrol. Flavonoids can help maintain the health of your blood vessels, and may keep blood clots from forming.
Have a glass of wine with dinner, but the American Heart Association does not recommend people start drinking simply to prevent heart disease.
Drinking alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and increase risks for stroke, breast cancer and accidents so enjoy in moderation.
Like salmon, tuna is a fish that is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, and it also contains folate and niacin.
Tuna from a tin makes a good salad (easy on the dressing) is an easy lunch snack that will keep you full. Fresh tuna can also be grilled but not too long as it can be dry unless you have marinaded it.
Tofu is a great source of protein, it’s vegetarian, and full of heart-healthy nutrients including niacin, folate, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Tofu is easy to prepare and can be part of almost any meal. Thinly slice the “firm” variety of tofu, marinate for several hours and grill or add to your favourite stir-fry. It can be used instead of meat in pasta dishes, and add in slices or cubes to salads for added protein.
10. Brown rice
Brown rice is heart healthy with B-complex vitamins, fibre, niacin, and magnesium.
You can add brown rice to just about any dish and microwaveable brown rice with a few chopped vegetables makes an easy and quick lunch. Mix it with some beans or tofu, make a stir-fry, add to soups, or even serve cold in a salad.
11. Soy milk
Soy milk contains isoflavones (a flavonoid), B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phytoestrogens.
The protein found in soy milk, versus the protein found in animal milks, can help lower blood cholesterol levels and may provide other cardiovascular benefits.
Use soy milk in your whole grain breakfast cereal or blend in a smoothie, or replace the dairy milk in any recipe with soy milk.
Berries are packed with nutrients including beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids), anthocyanin (a flavonoid), ellagic acid (a polyphenol), vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fibre.
Berries are easy to eat as a healthy snack by themselves, or top your cereal or pancakes, blend into a smoothie, top your low fat yogurt, or have some on a salad.
Carrots are a good source of alpha-carotene (a carotenoid) and fibre.
Baby carrots make a great snack and chopped they add crunch to salads, and you can even ad shredded carrots into many recipes including tomato sauce, muffins, or soups.
Spinach packs a heart-healthy punch with beta-carotene (a carotenoid), vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium, and fibre.
Spinach makes a great base for salads and can be used on sandwiches in lieu of lettuce. You can also sneak some into a fruit smoothie, add it to your pizza, or mix into an omelette.
Broccoli is a powerhouse vegetable with beta-carotene (a carotenoid), vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium, and fibre.
Broccoli can be added to soups, salads, or mixed with a brown rice dish.
16. Sweet potato
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A (as beta-carotene, a carotenoid), as well as vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium, and fibre. Sweet potatoes are not the same as yams. Yams are healthy, but sweet potatoes pack more nutrients and fibre.
You can bake a whole potato and top with healthy filling or puree for a creamy-tasting soup, or mash for a side dish.
17. Red peppers
Sweet red peppers are tangy, crunchy, and full of heart-healthy beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids), B-complex vitamins, folate, potassium, and fibre.
They are delicious in salads and wraps, or cut into slices to snack on raw as part of crudités with a low-fat dip. Grill or roast for a hearty side dish, or add to sauces or main dishes for extra flavour.
Asparagus is a delicious treat and contains beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids), B-complex vitamins, folate, and fibre.
It makes an excellent side dish if grilled or steamed lightly and sprinkled with some balsamic vinaigrette. Add to salads, stews, or casseroles.
Oranges are filled with nutrients such as beta-cryptoxanthin, beta- and alpha-carotene, lutein (carotenoids) and flavones (flavonoids), vitamin C, potassium, folate, and fibre.
The whole fruit is best and you can also add orange slices to salads, yogurt, or even chicken dishes. Orange juice can also offer some of the same benefits, but per serving you are best off with the fruit.
Tomatoes have beta- and alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein (carotenoids), vitamin C, potassium, folate, and fibre.
Raw, tomatoes can be added to sandwiches or salads. Cooked, they make great sauces, and are perfect additions to pasta dishes.
21. Acorn squash
Acorn squash has the highest nutritional value of the many types of squash with beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids), B-complex and C vitamins, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fibre.
Baked squash is best so cut, scrape out the seeds, fill with brown rice and veggies and roast.
Cantaloupe also contains heart-healthy nutrients such as alpha- and beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids), B-complex and C vitamins, folate, potassium, and fibre.
You can cut and eat it or try some blended into a smoothie, or mix with other fruits for a fresh fruit salad.
Papaya contains beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein (carotenoids), Vitamins C and E, folate, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Papaya goes great with heart-healthy salmon or added to a smoothie, fruit salad or even grilled.
24. Dark chocolate
Chocolate contains heart-healthy resveratrol and cocoa phenols (flavonoids), which can lower blood pressure.
Stick to dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content to reap the benefits, and remember moderation is key because chocolate is high in calories, fat, and sugar.
Tea contains catechins and flavonols (flavonoids), like red wine, which can help maintain the health of your blood vessels, and may keep blood clots from forming. Green tea in particular has been mentioned for its antioxidant properties.
To get more antioxidants from the tea, brew with hotter water, and steep for at least three to five minutes. Avoid sugar or milk as these add unnecessary calories and fat.
Because women are more vulnerable at menopause to oestrogen dominance and the excess weight that accompanies it, try also rebalancing with bioidentical progesterone as well as keeping an eye on your diet.
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