What You Need to Know About Women's Heart Health and Nutrition
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Nutrition Pathway, Cheryl Corry, RD, is pleased to introduce our guest blogger, dietetic intern, Danielle. Danielle is completing her Diploma of Dietetic Education and Practical Training at Brescia University College and her dietetic internship at Hamilton Health Sciences. Welcome to our blog Danielle!
Let’s talk about our hearts!
Our hearts are incredible organs. These small but powerful organs are the epicentre of our cardiovascular system and are responsible for four main functions throughout the body. These include:
- Receiving deoxygenated blood carrying metabolic waste products from all over the body then pumping it into the lungs for oxygenation
- Taking the newly oxygenated blood and pumping it to out to organs and other tissues
- Maintaining blood pressure
- Pumping nutrients, hormones, and other substances throughout the body
I think we can all agree those are pretty important jobs! When there are disturbances or changes in how our heart functions, it alters the efficiency and operation of not only our cardiovascular system but many other organ systems within our bodies.
Heart disease is currently the second leading cause of death in Canadians (1). While this may be caused in part by risk factors beyond our control such as family history, genetics or the environment, there are many lifestyle behaviours that can be addressed to improve our outcomes.
That being said, male and female hearts are not the same. Heart disease in women is “under-researched, under-diagnosed, under-treated and under-supported” (2). Due to this, the differences between male and female hearts can be poorly understood. In a physiological sense, differences between the two sexes include:
- Smaller hearts, coronary arteries, veins, and other capillaries in women
- Women have lower blood pressure and higher heart rates than their male counterparts of the same age
- The way plaque builds up within the arteries
- Pregnancy, menopause, and hormonal changes in women
- Different types of heart disease effect women which require different treatments
- Heart attacks signs and symptoms may also appear differently
Thankfully, there is exciting new current research focusing on heart health in women. While we wait for research to catch up a bit, there is one thing we know for sure: 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through healthy habits1! A healthy heart diet combined with regular physical activity are the cornerstones to preventing cardiovascular disease.
What does this look like you may ask?
There are characteristics of a heart healthy diet that are universally agreed upon. These include eating lots of fruits and vegetables, fibre-rich foods and protein and decreasing consumption of processed foods high in sugar, salt and fats. Why are these important?
1. Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which help fight cardiovascular disease. They are also a great source of fibre, which help with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. In thinking about Canada’s Food Guide, half of your plate should be primarily vegetables and fruits.
2. “Whole” grains, especially oats, oat bran, barley and quinoa, are good heart healthy foods because not only are they high in soluble fibre but also B vitamins and other minerals. You want to aim for about a quarter of your plate to be whole grain foods.
3. When choosing protein sources, try to aim for leaner or plant options. There has been a huge shift in focus to plant-based protein sources for many reasons. When we are talking about heart health, these plant sources are low in cholesterol, saturated and trans fats and high in fibre- all things proven to lower risk of heart disease! Examples of plant-based proteins include beans, peas, and lentils, soy products, nuts, seeds and their butters. Another source of protein and heart healthy fats include fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, trout and sardines. Aim for about a quarter of your plate to include protein sources!
4. Processed foods such as fried/ fast foods, potato chips, sodas, etc. are high in sugar, salt and saturated and trans fats. While these foods are fine every once in a while, (and in moderation) overconsumption can lead to not only to high blood pressure and heart disease but also weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and diabetes.
A Registered Dietitian can help guide you through meeting your individualized diet needs, planning heart healthy meals and can give you some great tools, tips, tricks and resources applicable to your goals. Make an appointment with Cheryl Corry, Registered Dietitian—your heart will thank you!
Healthy eating [Internet]. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. [cited 2020 Aug 21]. Available from: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/en/get-healthy/healthy-eating/
hs-2020-spotlight-on-women-en.pdf [Internet]. [cited 2020 Aug 21]. Available from: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/-/media/pdf-files/canada/2020-heart-month-report/hs-2020-spotlight-on-women-en.ashx?rev=981a16792c7c47a3a10c1fec5c3ccdb2&hash=52B8683C4AB200B1B75DAD523A469E6E