You may have heard the statistics: Heart disease in women is becoming the leading cause of death in the United States, Mexico, and many other developed nations. In fact, heart disease is responsible for about 1 in every 4 deaths (for a total of nearly 290,000 fatalities) among adult women every year in the U.S alone. (1)
It also accounts for almost a quarter of all deaths in Mexico and is currently the 2nd leading cause of death in Canada, diagnosed in about 1 in 12 adults. (2, 3) Globally, coronary heart disease—the type that affects the arteries—is the most common type of heart disease. High-income countries, such as Canada and the U.S, have higher heart disease risk rates than low-income counties, although cardiovascular disease is becoming increasingly common worldwide.
Heart Disease in Women: Are You At Risk?
While this debilitating condition may seem to strike without abandon, there are certain populations that are more susceptible. Specifically, you have the greatest risk of developing cardiovascular disease if:
- you’re overweight
- you smoke
- you’re sedentary
- you have diabetes
- or you have a history of risk factors like hypertension. and vascular disease.
Additionally, women over the age of 65 develop heart disease more than any other age group. This is true is partly because serum cholesterol and blood pressure levels tend to increase with age. But heart disease in women isn’t confined to older populations—35% of deaths North American women over the age of 20 (or more than 432,000) are caused by cardiovascular Disease each year. (2)
The All-Natural Way to Treat Heart Disease in Women
Instead of relying on “band-aid” prescription medications that fail to treat the root cause of heart disease, there’s now overwhelming evidence showing that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is extremely important for helping to reduce coronary heart disease, stroke, and atherosclerosis (hardening and thickening of the arteries that can sometimes lead to a heart attack).
While medications can be life-saving in some situations, adjusting dietary habits seems to get to the root of the problem. A nutrient-dense diet provides a significant amount of the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that can fight inflammation and oxidative stress—now seen as major contributing factors to nearly all chronic diseases.
Want to Prevent Clogged Arteries? Focus on Food, Not Meds
An April 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found evidence that higher vegetable intake alone—especially specific types of vegetables that contain certain phytochemicals—is able to reduce women’s risk for developing coronary artery diseases. (2)
This likely applies to women of all ages, but in this case, the research applies to adult women living in Australia who were over the age of 70. What makes this particular study unique and interesting is that it’s the first to investigate the association between total vegetable intake and specific vegetables (grouped according to their phytonutrients) and the risk for developing heart and artery disease.
So what did the study find regarding the protective effects of eating veggies? To protect yourself against cardiovascular diseases you want to eat a wide variety of vegetables—but some kinds have been found to be more protective than others.
Cruciferous vegetables, which includes types like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, collard greens, and cabbage have been shown to be most supportive of heart health.
These vegetables are known to be an excellent source of several essential vitamins, minerals and bioactive phytochemicals—including organosulfur compounds (which are proposed to be very beneficial for cardiovascular health) like isothiocyanates and sulforaphane,carotenoids (like beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin), vitamins C, E, and K, folate, minerals like potassium, and dietary fiber. (3)
How to Increase Veggie Intake for Heart Health
In the aforementioned study, total vegetable intake (not just consumption of cruciferous veggies) was also found to be associated with reduced risk for artery disease. To come to this conclusion, the researchers measured participants’ levels of carotid artery intima‐media thickness and plaque (CCA‐IMT), which is a measurement of the thickness of the innermost two layers of the wall of an artery and a marker of atherosclerosis.
How Many Vegetable Servings Should You Eat?
They found that women who consumed three or more servings of vegetables each day had about a 4% to 5.0% lower CCA‐IMT levels compared with participants consuming two servings of vegetables or less. And for each additional 10 grams of cruciferous vegetables that a woman ate per day, she experienced about a 0.8% reduction in her CCA‐IMTlevel on average.
Based on these findings, experts are now recommending that adults make a strong effort to increase their consumption of cruciferous vegetables for added protection against vascular diseases, coronary heart disease, stroke, and other diseases like cancer and diabetes.
While this study suggests that cruciferous vegetables might be the most heart-healthy, it’s still recommended that we consume a variety of different plant foods since they all have unique benefits. To sum up, the most recent advice when it comes to eating in order to protect your heart, here are the key takeaways:
- Aim to eat three or more servings of vegetables daily.
- Aim for variety, including veggies of different colors. Some vegetables to regularly include in your diet include cruciferous veggies, allium veggies (like onions, leeks, and garlic), yellow/orange/red veggies (especially tomato, capsicum, beetroot, carrot, and pumpkin), all types of leafy greens and lettuce, and legumes/beans. While potatoes do offer some nutrients, they are generally not counted towards your daily intake of vegetables.
- Make it a priority to eat more cruciferous veggies. These include cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. In this study, cruciferous vegetables contributed the most benefit towards protecting against cardiovascular diseases.
Most adults should also eat several servings of fruit daily, especially berries and citrus fruits, which are nutrient-dense.
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