Food to flourish in menopause
There is a lot of talk of brain fog and hot flushes when we discuss menopause, which is fair enough, as these can really impact on a women’s life, but we don’t always talk about some of the side effects of menopause that can’t be felt or seen from the outside…
I’m talking about heart health.
Some of the most important long-term effects of the menopause can go unnoticed and often women are unaware that these may be a concern for them. Hormonal changes that lead to a reduction in oestrogen can have widespread effects on the body, one of which is reduced protection to the heart. Left unchecked and without changes to lifestyle, this can have serious impact on your future health.
Coronary heart disease kills twice as many women as breast cancer in the UK, with an average of 1 in 14 women dying from coronary heart disease, so this is something women need to be informed about as there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Why does my heart disease risk increase with menopause?
As women head through menopause, the ovaries gradually produce less oestrogen. Oestrogen has a protective effect on several parts of your body including your heart.
Reduced oestrogen impacts your heart because:
- Oestrogen reduces the build-up of fatty plaques in your arteries. If these plaques build up they narrow the arteries, reducing the blood flow and therefore oxygen getting to the heart and this can increase risk of heart attack or stroke.
- As oestrogen levels drop this can lead to cholesterol levels rising. Pre menopause 37% of women have high cholesterol levels compared to 66% of post menopausal women. Increased cholesterol over time causes damage to the blood vessels carrying blood to the heart and brain.
- Blood pressure increases during menopause, which can reduce the elasticity of the arteries, decreasing the flow of blood to your heart.
- Where you store fat shifts. As you move through menopause you tend to store more fat around your middle. This doesn’t mean you have put weight on (weight gain is not an inevitable part of menopause), but it does mean that your body changes shape from a ‘pear’ to an ‘apple’. The type of fat around you store around your abdomen can lead to metabolic disturbances and may mean you may be storing more fat around your organs, including the heart.
What can I do to improve my heart health through the foods that I eat?
The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. It is important to consider your lifestyle as a whole and key areas to improve heart health would include stopping smoking, drinking alcohol to within Government recommendations, exercise that meet the Government recommendations, stress management and getting enough sleep. Women aged 40+ should also get regular heart health checks such as blood pressure and cholesterol.
From a nutrition point of view there is lots you can do to make the food that you eat more ‘heart healthy’. Here are some key ideas to make a start with this.
Include ‘Healthy’ fats
Saturated ‘unhealthy’ fats if over consumed, can lead to increased cholesterol levels. Healthy unsaturated fats have been shown to be heart healthy, if eaten in moderation.
Healthy unsaturated fats can be found in foods such as:
- Olive or rapeseed oil
- Plant based spreads
- Oily fish for omega 3’s (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines)
- Plant based proteins; by reducing saturated fat content compared to some animal proteins and often a good source of fibre too! (Beans, tofu, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, nuts & seeds.
Swapping saturated fats such as butter, coconut oil, palm oil for healthy fats can be a really great way to increase the heart health of your diet.
Greater dietary fibre intakes have been shown to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce blood pressure.
There are also lots of other benefits to including foods that contain fibre such as increasing vitamin and mineral intake and certain types of fibre, such as those found in oats (beta glucans) can actively help to reduce cholesterol when consumed in the correct quantities.
Fibre rich foods include:
- Fruits and veg
- Wholegrains (wholemeal bread, oats, bulgur wheat, wholegrain cereals e.g. Weetabix, wholegrain rice or pasta, oats and oatcakes)
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans and legumes
Increase fibre gradually and make sure you are well hydrated to avoid gastrointestinal side effects such as gas and bloating!
Keeping salt intake to less than a teaspoon (6g)/day can help to keep your blood pressure under control.
We can change our taste buds over time and so gradually reducing the salt we add to food when cooking will mean we eventually need less, but without really noticing the change! Adding in other flavours such as lemon, herbs or spices can add extra flavour and reduce the need for so much salt.
Foods such as gravy, stock cubes, sauces (tomato ketchup etc.) and even sweet foods such as cakes and biscuits can be surprisingly high in salt.
Check the food labels when comparing foods can help you to reduce your salt intake with little effort. Looking for green on the traffic light system or less than 0.3g/100g on the back of the pack can help you to choose products that are lower in salt, and these changes can really add up over the months.
Want to know more about how I can support you to improve the health of your diet through menopause, then get in touch for a free, no obligation discovery call.
Helping you to flourish!
- BHF (2023) UK Fact Sheet. [Accessed online 27.9.23] https://www.bhf.org.uk/-/media/files/for-professionals/research/heart-statistics/bhf-cvd-statistics-uk-factsheet.pdf
- NHS Digital. Health Survey for England 2019. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/health-survey-for-england/2019
- Heart UK (2021) Guide to eating well during menopause
- Reynolds, Andrew N et al. “Dietary fibre in hypertension and cardiovascular disease management: systematic review and meta-analyses.” BMC medicine vol. 20,1 139. 22 Apr. 2022, doi:10.1186/s12916-022-02328-x
- Yu, Junhui et al. “Effects of Oat Beta-Glucan Intake on Lipid Profiles in Hypercholesterolemic Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Nutrients vol. 14,10 2043. 13 May. 2022, doi:10.3390/nu14102043
- He, Feng J et al. “Effect of longer term modest salt reduction on blood pressure: Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 346 f1325. 3 Apr. 2013, doi:10.1136/bmj.f1325