Menopause is a natural phase in a woman’s life, but it brings about hormonal and body composition changes that can increase the risk of developing heart disease. Medical experts are now highlighting the benefits of a plant-based diet during menopause to support heart health.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), adopting specific dietary habits can help women navigate this crucial life transition while reducing the risk of cardiovascular issues in the long run.
“More women in the US are living longer, and a significant portion of them will spend up to 40 percent of their lives postmenopausal,” Brooke Aggarwal, EdD, MS, FAHA, an assistant professor of medical sciences in Cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center and a volunteer for the AHA’s Go Red for Women movement, said in a statement.
Aggarwal stressed the importance of addressing women’s heart health during and after menopause, as the risk of cardiovascular disease evolves with age.
Menopause is different for every woman, but it is equally crucial to focus on heart and brain health. “Navigating through menopause isn’t one-size-fits-all, and neither is the journey to good heart health,” Aggarwal added. “This makes it even more important to focus on heart and brain health at all stages of life.”
How to stay healthy during menopause
To help women stay proactive about their health, the AHA provides several key tips to support heart health during menopause.
Importantly, the AHA says to focus on eating habits. While there is no miracle food, it’s essential for women to consider their overall eating pattern. The AHA recommends a plant-forward diet such as the DASH-style and Mediterranean-style diets, which are rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins, while being low in salt, sugar, alcohol, and processed foods.
The AHA suggests that women monitor their health. Regularly checking blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI) will help ensure women are within a healthy range. Cholesterol levels are also essential and should be tailored to individual risk factors. Consulting with a doctor is crucial for personalized guidance.
Exercise with strength and resistance training is also an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Strength and resistance training, in addition to endurance, balance, and flexibility exercises, can help women maintain bone strength and muscle mass during menopause. As bone density may decrease and body composition shifts to lower muscle mass, incorporating strength training at least twice a week is beneficial.
Prioritizing sleep is the last AHA tip. Menopause often brings sleep disturbances, including nightly restroom trips, night sweats, and insomnia. Ensuring a good night’s rest is crucial for overall health. Simple habit changes, like setting reminders to wind down and turning off electronic devices, can improve sleep quality. If sleep problems persist, the AHA suggests consulting a doctor.
Plant-forward diet best for heart health
A significant takeaway from these recommendations is the emphasis on a plant-based diet, which aligns with the heart-healthy elements of the DASH and Mediterranean eating patterns. These diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, providing essential nutrients and supporting overall heart health during the menopausal transition.
A scientific report previously published by the AHA in its journal Circulation that analyzed 10 popular eating patterns found that very low carb or ketogenic diets ranked last for heart health. Plant-based diets, on the other hand, ranked at the top for heart-healthy eating guidelines.
The plant-forward Mediterranean diet eating pattern had a score of 89 percent because it allows for moderate alcohol consumption and does not address added salt. The pescatarian diet (92 percent) and vegetarian diet (86 percent) also were in the top tier. The vegan diet followed closely behind at 78 percent of the AHA dietary guidelines.
But all of these diets share so much in common that they can be grouped together as a top tier of plant-forward eating patterns, and they are easier to follow than the vegan diet, according to lead author Christopher D. Gardner, a research professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California.
“If implemented as intended, the top-tier dietary patterns align best with the American Heart Association’s guidance and may be adapted to respect cultural practices, food preferences, and budgets to enable people to always eat this way, for the long term,” Gardner said in a statement.
And, notably, by following these guidelines and adopting a plant-based diet, women can better navigate the changes that come with menopause while reducing the risk of heart disease and promoting overall well-being.
The AHA’s comprehensive approach to women’s heart health during menopause serves as a valuable resource for women as they embark on this important life stage, empowering them to take control of their cardiovascular health.