‘Red’ foods a benefit for women’s hearts

Are women really so different from men? Well … yes.

Case in point: Get a group of women and men together and listen to their conversations. Women talk to women about jobs, and children, and grandchildren. Men to men topics were jobs and sports and sports.

Healthwise however, we have a lot in common with our male counterparts.

Heart disease is the main killer of men in this country, according to the American Heart Association. And that statistic is unfortunately also true for women.

In fact, more women die of heart disease each year than from every kind of cancer combined, says the heart association.

Feb. 7 was National Wear Red Day, a day to raise awareness for what women can do to protect themselves from heart disease.

Why red? It is the color of our hearts, says the American Heart Association. And I might mention it’s also the color of red grapes, red wine, red berries, and even red beans that contain resveratrol, an antioxidant substance that may exert heart-protective effects.

One caution, however. A recent study in older active men (not women) was surprised to find that high dose supplements of resveratrol (in excess of the amount found in foods) had no benefit — and perhaps even some harm — to health.

Best to get this substance the old-fashioned way, from real red food, experts say.

Dark chocolate may not be red, but it still tends to be good for our hearts. So are nuts. Which is exactly how I justified sharing a dark chocolate brownie with espresso gelato and hazelnuts with my friend last evening.

Dark chocolate (especially that which is 70 percent or higher cocoa content) is rich in antioxidant substances that may help lower blood pressure and improve the function of blood vessels.

Recent studies also give high marks for the ability of these flavonols in dark chocolate to ease anxiety (didn’t we know it) and possibly protect the brain from cognitive decline.

Which means we can remember that chocolate — like wine — is best in small doses.

And much like the darker forms of chocolate contain higher amounts of heart beneficial flavonols, darker-fleshed fish contains higher amounts of heart protective omega-3 fatty acids.

And as we worry about our growing population over-fishing our oceans, two recent studies by scientists with the USDA Human Nutrition Research Service found that Atlantic (farmed) salmon “are excellent sources of EPA and DHA” — the active forms of omega-3 fatty acids associated with reducing heart disease.

Exercise to burn off the espresso gelato dark chocolate brownie might bring a bit of red flush to the face.

And that’s good for this female heart, yes? Absolutely, experts say. Physical activity — for women and men — “is highly effective at improving heart health.”

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

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