5 heart-friendly foods for busy women

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Tuesday, 11 June 2013.
Tagged: cholesterol, cholesterol lowering, fat, healthy heart, high cholesterol, nuts, oil

5 heart-friendly foods for busy women
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We all know about the risks of breast cancer. It attracts enormous publicity – think of all those pink products and celebrity survivors such as Olivia Newton-John and Kylie Minogue! With all that media hype, it’s easy to forget that it’s NOT the No 1 killer of Australian women – heart disease is. In fact, heart disease kills four times as many Australian women as breast cancer every year!

clipboard  This post is sponsored by HeartActive milk  

 HeartActive is a delicious, 99% fat free milk enriched with plant sterols, which are proven to help reduce cholesterol. Research shows that consuming plant sterols everyday in milk can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10% in three weeks. HeartActive is currently available in a 1 L carton with an extended shelf life (45 days from production) compared to ‘regular’ milks with a shelf life of 14 days.

Most women don’t make the connection between heart problems and themselves – they think that heart disease is a ‘male problem’ because high profile men who have heart attacks, like Kerry Packer, are very visible in the media.

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So ladies, call your doctor today for a check-up. It’s important you quit smoking, get active, take steps to shed those few kilos around your middle that have crept on, and check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Eating a healthy diet - low in saturated and trans fats, high in fibre, with plenty of vegetables and whole grains -  is key to maintaining a healthy heart. Here are my five easy ‘heart-friendly’ foods that can help lower cholesterol and keep your heart healthy when you're on the go.

1. Sterol-containing foods to lower your cholesterol

Sterols have nothing to do with steroids! In fact, you’re already eating sterols! They’re natural plant chemicals found in vegetables and beans and have a similar structure to cholesterol but they can block the body’s absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract. Eat enough of them and your cholesterol levels will come down. It’s not a gimmick, there’s good research to prove it.

Sterols 2013 originals hi-res

Sterols were first added to margarine spreads, but these days you’ll also find them in special milks (HeartActive) and yoghurt (Logicol). You need to consume 2-3g of sterols a day - which amounts to roughly three serves of a sterol-enriched food e.g. three 250 ml glasses of HeartActive or 25-35 g of a sterol-containing margarine.

Because these products work like a medicine, you need to consume them everyday. So, if you have high cholesterol, start making a few  smoothies each week (here's my recipe for a breakfast smoothie) and spread your wholegrain muffin with a sterol spread.

2. Almonds for their vitamin E

Almonds office snackWhen packing a snack, make it a handful of almonds (30 to 50g, which is 20-30 almonds). Preferably raw and unsalted. Or mix them with a few juicy raisins or prunes. I keep a container or zip-lock bag of them on hand for when cravings kick in.

Almonds – one of my super foods - stack up as one of nature’s top heart foods. They’re rich in the ‘good’ monounsaturated fats (like those in olive oil), vitamin E (a fat-soluble vitamin) and an amino acid called arginine, which keeps blood vessels clear of fatty plaques.

Almonds are also a good source of the minerals potassium, magnesium and even a little calcium to help keep blood pressure under control. Other nuts give similar benefits too but I like the crunch and ready availability of almonds.


 3. Canned salmon and sardines for omega-3s

They won’t lower your cholesterol, but the healthy omega-3 fats in oily fish keep your heart beating steady, your blood free-flowing, your arteries more elastic and triglycerides (another blood fat) down. Try to cook oily fish varieties such as trout, mackerel and herring when you can. Canned salmon or sardines are excellent for omega-3 and inexpensive. I love them for a convenient lunch either on crackers with sliced tomato or in a salad. How about No-fuss salmon vegetables and macaroni toss? Or Easy Thai salmon cakes?


 4. Oats for their beta-glucan

Beta-glucan is a soluble fibre found mainly in oats that will keep your cholesterol down. In addition oats are whole grains and have a lowish GI so this will help if you have diabetes. Oats are so good for your nutrition – they top up your B vitamins, especially thiamin and niacin, as well as minerals like phosphorus, potassium and magnesium (which helps steady the rhythm of the heart).

Oats which are another one of my 20 super foods are a kitchen ingredient for all-seasons.

In summer:

Use them to make your own muesli mixed with nuts and dried fruits and eat with a cholesterol-lowering yoghurt.

In winter:

Just take a cup of that muesli, mix with 1 ¼ cups of water and 1 cup of cholesterol-lowering milk like HeartActive, bring to the boil and simmer while stirring for five minutes and you've got a heart healthy and warming breakfast that not only looks after your heart but is also low GI and will keep you feeling fuller for longer.

 5. Oat and grain bread

I’m impressed with Country Life’s Mixed Grain Oat bread which is made with over 4 per cent oat bran plus grains and is high in fibre. The oat bran really boosts its beta-glucan levels, which helps blocks cholesterol absorption as outlined above. When you're on the go, this is a good bread for a heart healthy diet. Start your day with a bowl of porridge oats or hot muesli and then tuck into a sandwich at lunch made from this loaf. Or have it toasted with a spread of honey in the afternoon instead of biscuits or a muesli bar. Healthy AND quick!

HeartActive is a delicious, 99% fat free milk enriched with plant sterols, which are proven to help reduce cholesterol. Research shows that consuming plant sterols everyday in milk can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10% in three weeks.

Catherine Saxelby About the author

About the Author


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Catherine Saxelby's My Nutritionary

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Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her award-winning book My Nutritionary will help you cut through the jargon. Do you know your MCTs from your LCTs? How about sterols from stanols? What’s the difference between glucose and dextrose? Or probiotics and prebiotics? What additive is number 330? How safe is acesulfame K? If you find yourself confused by food labels, grab your copy of Catherine Saxelby’s comprehensive guide My Nutritionary NOW!