Women’s health can often feel secondary to men’s. Research and studies are often conducted on the latter, leaving the former relegated to hypotheticals, and not concrete evidence. One of the biggest issues around women’s health is heart health. February is Heart Month, so we’re channelling some energy into our own medicine cabinets.  

Heart disease and stroke will kill 31,000 Canadian women this year alone. If you’re diabetic, from a specific ethnic background or are menopausal you’re at an even higher risk. The hormonal waves that women ride, from childbirth and menopause have their complications and potential problems. I should know. I recently discovered that my near-fatal delivery of my firstborn daughter due to HELLP Syndrome puts me at a higher risk for heart issues later in life. No doctor told me. I randomly saw this fact shared by another mom on my Twitter feed. 

Heart-healthy eating with foods like Canola Oil can protect your heart

It’s clear we need to look out for one another, share information and know the signs. Classic heart attack signs for men are well-documented, whereas in women it can appear as fainting, dizziness or even extreme fatigue. It’s critical we know what a heart or stroke looks like, seconds can make the difference in saving a life. Important risk factors for heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, physical inactivity and obesity.

Diet and exercise play crucial roles in supporting heart health. Minimizing cholesterol intake, particularly if you’re post-menopausal is an easy way to nurture your heart health. After menopause when natural estrogen levels drop, more women tend to develop high cholesterol which can contribute to complications. Cholesterol-free butter substitutes like Earth Balance, vegan butter or other cholesterol-free butter substitutes like Canola Oil offer heart-healthy fats and can reduce blood LDL cholesterol levels.

Plant sterols are also important- aim for 2g per day – it helps block absorption of cholesterol. Supplements, a diet rich with lots of fruits, vegetables and vegetable oils, wheat bran, legumes and nuts are key to maintaining good health. Products like Becel Pro Activ or sterol fortified juice can also help. Your childhood favourite Cheerios are made with whole-grain oats and rich in fibre, and in a nod to the month, are heart-shaped and offer a little reminder to start your day off on the right foot. In keeping up your steps, Cheerios is also giving away 5000 Fitbit inspire2 activity trackers, get all the details on this timely contest at www.stepuptowin.ca

A Mediterranean Diet is considered one of the most heart-healthy diets, aside from a vegan diet which many people are not interested in. Think a diet rich in lots of fresh produce, lots of fish and seafood, healthy oils like olive oil, a bit of harder cheese like Parmesan, ricotta and feta (high in sodium so go easy) and low-fat Greek yoghurt, whole grains and legumes, nuts and seeds and very limited red meat and a (single) glass of red wine with your dinner. A heavy focus on leaning towards a plant-based and half-your-plate vegetable and fruit mentality can go far.

Low sodium is key to a heart-healthy diet – most excess sodium (about 80% according to Canadian Heart and Stroke) is found in processed foods. The average Canadian consumes about  3400mg sodium, and it is recommended to keep at a max of 2300mg sodium per day but we should all aim for 1500mg a day per Health Canada. 

Stay tuned for more heart-healthy recipes all month long. Special reporting by Carole Nelson Brown. Photos by Libby Roach.