Education is so important when it comes to decreasing the overwhelming statistics when it comes to women and heart disease. In fact, if you were to poll several women and ask where heart disease ranks on a top 5 list of caused deaths in women, only a few would give you the correct, and unfortunate answer that it ranks in the top spot. Even fewer people realize that there are more women dying from heart disease each year than men, and the gap has been widening for almost 4 decades!
While there are certainly factors that are outside of one’s control that contribute to increased risk (genetics and family history), there are other factors that women can adjust in order to decrease their risk of heart disease. A woman’s diet is one of these factors that women can control that also plays a significant role in the health of her heart. So, we’ve put together a list of things to implement into your diet in our hopes that your heart will go on and…on (*cue: Celine Dion).
What Foods Are Good For My Heart?
Leafy greens such as arugula, kale, and spinach have enjoyed a great reputation as some of the healthiest foods out there. While many of us may look at those through the lens of “do I really have to” or “can’t pizza be considered a leafy green”, the reality is that green helps the heart go, and these greens have a surprisingly strong effect on your heart. Why? Well, these leafy greens are full of dietary nitrates, compounds that have been proven to show positive vascular effects. In fact, in a study performed on healthy women, it was found that leafy green vegetables, thanks to dietary nitrates, are effective in lowering blood pressure. As we know, high blood pressure increases the odds of developing heart disease, making an added serving or three of leafy greens each day a smart move in improving your heart health.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are more overlooked in comparison to leafy greens but have proven themselves to be equally as important in preserving a healthy body and maintaining cardiovascular health. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts and especially fish like salmon.
How exactly do Omega-3 fatty acids help your heart? Well, studies have shown that they are useful in preventing recurrent heart disease in a number of ways. They help lower blood pressure by keeping the lining of the arteries free of damage which can allow plaque to attach to the walls. In the same vein (pun intended), they help reduce the risk of blood clots by keeping platelets from clumping together. Omega-3 fatty acids also lower triglyceride levels, which increase the risk of heart disease. They are also known to lessen inflammation in the arteries and heart. If you can, try to add a few servings a week of fish to your diet or of other foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids. Or, if even the thought of fish in your diet is a non-starter, try implementing a high-quality supplement that can be recommended by your doctor.
Choose the Whole Grains
Whole grains are fantastic sources of healthy nutrients that also play a role in helping out with our heart health. Many whole grains contain dietary fibers which can help improve blood cholesterol levels by helping prevent the absorption of ‘bad’ cholesterol. In addition, other nutrients found in whole grains have proven to help improve oxygen levels in the blood and also aid in the formation of new cells. Thankfully, finding tasty, whole grain alternatives to the refined grains that we normally eat (and let’s be honest – are normally okay with) are more plentiful and available than they used to be. The next time you are at the store, try substituting your normal bread for a package of whole grain bread, white flour for whole-wheat flour, egg noodles for whole-grain pasta, and even pick up some high-fiber cereal to implement into your diet. You don’t have to go ‘cold-turkey’ on refined grains, but the more whole grains in your diet, the better off you are in taking your heart health to a whole new level.
Okay, we’ve heard from all the ‘sweet tooth’ fans out there, and we’re happy to throw you guys a bone when it comes to tasty, heart healthy treats – especially around Valentine’s Day! Chocolate is often considered unhealthy, being linked to causing acne, weight gain, and bloating. But, dark chocolate, unlike its unhealthier cocoa counterparts, has actually been proven to show a myriad of health benefits.
Compared to other chocolates, dark chocolate contains a higher concentration of antioxidants. It has polyphenols, which have been proven to be associated with reduced cardiovascular disorders. Dark chocolate also contains flavonoids, which have been shown to offer anti-inflammatory properties as well as cardiovascular benefits.
Of course, (you knew it was coming) too much dark chocolate can have detrimental effects on your health. Nonetheless, you can satisfy your ‘sweet tooth’ by incorporating moderate amounts of dark chocolate into your diet while kicking that tiny bit of guilt to the curb.
While it is important to make sure you are eating the right things, it’s equally important to make sure you keep the wrong things out of your diet, or at least added in a contained manner. Reducing the sodium in your diet can help lower blood pressure. Stay away from meats with high fat content and limit the amount of unhealthy fats you intake. As always, substance abuse can have damaging impacts on your heart as well as other areas of your body. If you are struggling with alcohol, smoking, or other substances, please seek help before you damage your body further.
Your heart is vital to the health and function of the rest of your systems! During American Heart Month, choose to make your heart a priority! You only get one, so it’s worth the small sacrifices and adjustments you make to keep it healthy and going on.