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The Heart of the Matter

Cardiovascular disease is a health concern often associated with middle aged, overweight men, rather than women, however heart-related illness is the number one cause of death for women in the UK.1  Despite this, many women don’t believe they are at risk with our recent survey revealing 84% of British women are unaware heart-related issues are the biggest threat to their health.2

With February being Heart Health month, it’s the perfect time to raise awareness around how heart disease can impact women. Did you know that it kills more than twice as many British women as breast cancer?3 And are you aware that poor heart health can lead to different symptoms in women than in men, making it potentially harder to identify?

Heart Health month is an opportunity to learn about your potential risk, assess your lifestyle and make small, positive changes that can have a significant impact on future proofing your heart health.

We’ve teamed up with Celebrity Doctor Alex George to discuss some of the key factors that put us at risk of heart-related illness and how diet can have a positive impact in minimising the risks.

Dr Alex says: “Diet is one of the most effective places to start if you want to help protect your heart, yet research has shown that only 20 per cent of women are aware that diet plays and key role in keeping your heart healthy.4   High cholesterol and being overweight are two of the key risk factors for developing heart-related illnesses and both are influenced by what we eat.”

Dr. Alex

Where to start?

Dr Alex continues: “Only 1 in 4 of women are regularly thinking about our heart health when choosing what to eat5 so it’s best to start by learning what’s in the food you’re eating, what you need more of and what you need to eat in moderation.”

“It doesn’t have to mean introducing restrictions either, instead it’s about making smart, sustainable changes that your heart will thank you for. Swapping out some of your snacks to healthier alternatives or finding smarter ways to make the food you love using different ingredients, for example, could be just what you need to make your diet a little more heart-smart.”

 “As a general rule, whole foods that haven’t been processed, like fruit, veggies, grains and nuts like almonds are your best bet. They’re easy to incorporate and are packed with nutrients to keep your heart healthy.”

Almonds provide fibre (12.5g / 3.5g per 100g / 30g serving) and 15 essential nutrients including (per 100g / 30g serving): magnesium (270 / 76 mg), potassium (733 / 205 mg), and vitamin E (25.6 / 7.2 mg) to support heart healthy eating plans like the Mediterranean Diet or the DASH diet.

Choosing “healthy” unsaturated fat and minimising saturated fat is important for heart health. UK health guidelines recommend that the average man aged 19 to 64 years should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day and the average woman aged 19 to 64 years should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day.

What exactly is cholesterol and why does it put you at risk?

“There’s a lot of confusion around cholesterol, with 47% of women unaware that high LDL cholesterol levels can increase your risk of cardiovascular problems6 but it’s important for women to understand what cholesterol is and how to control it. Knowledge is power and knowing that anyone is at risk of high cholesterol, and that some comes from what we eat, helps you make smarter lifestyle choices,” says Dr Alex.

He adds: “There are two types of cholesterol – HDL ‘good’ cholesterol and LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol. HDL cholesterol works to remove cholesterol from the blood. LDL-cholesterol can build up and cause the narrowing of our arteries, which increases your risk of heart attack.

“Eating more saturated fat can elevate your LDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol levels.  By choosing foods that are low in saturated fat and made up of healthier unsaturated fats, you can help manage your cholesterol levels. Almonds are a great example of a food that you can easily incorporate into your diet daily as part of a heart-smart diet. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that eating almonds results in significant reductions in total cholesterol, “bad” LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, while having no significant impact on “good” HDL-cholesterol levels.7

How can I manage my weight?

Being overweight can massively increase your risk of developing heart disease, says Dr Alex.

“The good news is that more than 50% of women already know that being overweight puts you at greater risk,8 so it’s important to make sure women are armed with the tools to manage their weight in a healthy and sustainable way. If you’re concerned about your weight and your risk of heart-related illness, it’s best to check in directly with you GP.”

“Prevention is, however, better than a cure so if you’re keen to manage your weight to mitigate any future risks, a combination of a good diet and being active will help. Whole foods are also useful for weight management as they tend to be low in sugar and saturated fat. Start with a simple change, like swapping out snacks like biscuits or crisps with almonds,” he advises.

Research has shown that a daily snack of 42g of almonds, instead of a high-carbohydrate snack with equal calories, as part of a cholesterol lowering diet, helped reduce belly fat and significantly improved cholesterol levels.9

Additional Resources

Almonds have a wide range of nutritional benefits, so for more information on how they can support your heart health, weight management and more click here.

1 Heart Research Institute, Women and Heart Disease

2 Almond Board of California UK consumer survey, January 2021.

3 British Heart Foundation, Women and Heart Attacks

4 Almond Board of California UK consumer survey, January 2021.

5 Almond Board of California UK consumer survey, January 2021.

6 Almond Board of California UK consumer survey, January 2021.

7 Musa-Veloso K, Paulionis L, Poon T, Lee HL. The effects of almond consumption on fasting blood lipid levels: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Journal of Nutritional Science 2016; 5(e34):1-15

8 Almond Board of California UK consumer survey, January 2021.

9 Berryman CE, West SG, Fleming JA, Bordi PL, Kris-Etherton PM. Effects of Daily Almond Consumption on Cardiometabolic Risk and Abdominal Adiposity in Healthy Adults with Elevated LDL-Cholesterol: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Jour of the Amer Heart Assn 2014; 4:e000993, 2015.