Heart Healthy Foods

At menopause the risk for heart disease in women rises, but keeping your heart healthy with these simple dietary tips can help.


Women are very familiar with the risks for breast cancer, but generally less well-informed about the greater risk that heart disease poses. The fact is that six times as many women die of heart disease than from breast cancer, and a staggering 42% of women who have heart attacks die within 1 year, compared to 24% of men.

For women under 50 a heart attack is twice as likely to be fatal compared to a man of the same age. Bioidentical progesterone helps protect the heart, but just a few changes in your diet could also make a difference.

1. Fall for fish

Number one for heart health is salmon because it’s rich in omega-3s, the healthy fats that may lessen the risk of heart rhythm disorders. They also help lower blood pressure and triglycerides and curb inflammation.

Another heart healthy choice is tuna as that also has omega-3s as do other oily fish such as mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and anchovies.

Try to have 2-3 servings of oily fish a week.

2. Bulk up with beans

Cutting down on red meat is also healthy for the heart, and a good protein substitute comes from beans. Black beans are packed with heart-healthy nutrients such as folate, antioxidants, and magnesium all of which can help lower blood pressure. Their fibre helps control both cholesterol and blood sugar levels and are just as healthy canned or fresh, just make sure you rinse canned beans to remove any extra salt.

Edamame beans are becoming more common, you can find them in major supermarkets and edamame is the Japanese word for soybeans. Soy protein can help lower cholesterol level and plenty of fibre as well as providing a natural phytoestrogen.

3. Nuts and seeds to lower cholesterol

A good place to start is with a small handful of walnuts every day to lower your cholesterol and may also protect against inflammation in your heart’s arteries. Walnuts are packed with omega-3s, healthy monounsaturated fats, plant sterols, and fibre. The benefits come when walnuts replace bad fats, like those in french fries and biscuits. Using walnut oil in salad dressings is another good source too.

A very popular, sweet, nut are almonds as they also have plant sterols, fibre, and heart-healthy fats. They may help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and you don’t have to just eat the nuts, but they are great if you have them slivered and added to vegetables, fish, or chicken.

Flaxseed (or linseed as it is often called) has three things that are good for your heart: fibre, phytochemicals called lignans, and omega-3 fatty acids. They can be added to muffins, soups, muesli or porridge, but for best absorption they should be ground.

4. Store cupboard staples

Olive oil is a healthy fat that is rich in heart-healthy antioxidants that can protect your blood vessels. When olive oil replaces saturated fat (like butter), it can help lower cholesterol levels. Organic and cold pressed has the most benefit and it should be used within 6 months.

Yogurt of the low-fat plain variety can help control high blood pressure. It is high in calcium and potassium good for your bones too.

If you drink alcohol, a little red wine may be a heart-healthy choice as it contains resveratrol and catechins, two antioxidants that may protect artery walls. Alcohol can also boost HDL, the good cholesterol, but keep to a glass a day and not if taking aspirin and other medications.

It may not be a staple yet, but there is no doubt that if you eat tofu then you’ll get a great form of vegetarian soy protein with heart-healthy minerals, fibre, and polyunsaturated fats. It can take on the taste of the spices or sauces you use to cook it so is very versatile and gives you a great protein hit but with little added fat.

5. Vegetables and fruit that boost your heart

If you love potatoes, then consider a swop to sweet potatoes as with their low glycemic index, they won’t cause a quick spike in blood sugar. They also have vitamin A, and lycopene and you could start by mashing them 50/50 with your normal potatoes.

Swiss chard is a dark green, leafy vegetable and is rich in potassium and magnesium, and these minerals help control blood pressure. Swiss chard also has fibre, vitamin A, and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. If you don’t fancy it steamed or boiled, then sauté it with olive oil and garlic until wilted and season with herbs and pepper.

Sweet and juicy, oranges have the cholesterol-fighting fibre pectin and potassium, which helps control blood pressure. In one study, 2 cups of orange juice a day boosted blood vessel health, but that would be freshly squeezed juice, not cartons, and bear in mind that it can have a high sugar count too.

Cherries come in many forms: sweet cherries, sour cherries, dried cherries, and cherry juice — and they’re all good. Packed with antioxidants called anthocyanins they are believed to help protect blood vessels. Also anyone suffering from gout is said to benefit from sour cherry juice to help if you feel an attack coming on, or to keep one at bay.

Blueberries are simply brilliant when it comes to nutrition. They’ve got anthocyanins, those blood vessel-helping antioxidants that give the berries their dark blue color. Blueberries also have fibre and more than a handful of other great nutrients. Add fresh or dried blueberries to cereal, pancakes, or yogurt.

6. Cereals to lower cholesterol

Barley has rather fallen out of favour but this nutty whole grain can be used in place of rice and added to soups and stews. The fibre in barley can help lower cholesterol levels and may lower blood sugar levels, too.

Hulled or “whole grain” barley is the most nutritious and pearl barley is quick to cook, and so popular in soups, but a lot of the heart-healthy fibre has been removed.

Oatmeal or porridge oats are great to keep blood sugar levels stable over time and fill you up so you are less likely to snack. Extra weight is a consideration for heart disease and the fibre in oats can help your heart by lowering bad cholesterol (LDL).

Helpful information: 

There are several known risk factors for heart disease at menopause: being overweight, oestrogen dominant and use of synthetic hormones such as HRT with their high oestrogen levels also need to be considered.

Using bioidentical progesterone to rebalance hormones, help with weight gain and protect the heart is a great place to start. Looking in your larder and checking how many of these heart healthy foods you have, will also be a bonus and a boost to heart health.