By Curves

One in four women dies of heart disease in the United States, making it our number one killer.

And when we get to the other side of menopause, our risk rises. Many of us see our blood pressure numbers climb, and as we lose estrogen’s protective effect, our arteries stiffen.

Fortunately, there are many things we can do to help prevent heart disease: exercise regularly, get relief from stress, and eat a diet that includes fish, whole grains, beans, nuts, lots of vegetables and fruits, and—a cup of blueberries a day, perhaps.

In a study published just last month in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers at Florida State University, studied 48 postmenopausal women with pre- and stage-1 hypertension for eight weeks. The women were randomly given either a daily dose of blueberry powder equal to 1 cup of fresh blueberries or an equivalent amount of a placebo powder and asked to continue with their usual diet and exercise routines.

At the end of the 8 weeks, the researchers measured three markers of cardiovascular health, and found improvements in all three among the blueberry eaters but no change in the placebo group.

Blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure (the top number) dropped an average of 5.1 percent among the blueberry eaters, and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) dropped an average of 6.3 percent.

Arterial stiffness. Researchers found a 6.5 percent reduction in stiffness for the blueberry group.

Nitric oxide. Higher levels of nitric oxide in the blood are an indicator of widening of the arteries and when arteries widen, blood pressure drops. At the end of the 8-week period, nitric oxide had increased by 68.5 percent among the women who consumed the blueberry powder.

Though more research is needed to confirm these results, are you ready to bring more blueberries into your heart-smart diet? One cup of raw berries contains 84 calories, and though one of the best ways to enjoy them is to simply pop them fresh into your mouth one after another, here are some other suggestions for savoring your daily cup:

• Sprinkle them on cold oat cereal or swap raisins for blueberries in warm oatmeal. You’ll get the blueberry benefit, plus the soluble fiber in oats helps lower cholesterol.
• Mix blueberries into nonfat Greek yogurt for a sweet and tangy snack.
• Add frozen or fresh berries into your favorite smoothie base.

Prepare a salad with blueberries, walnuts, and mixed greens. Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. And dark greens such as spinach and kale are rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

Not that’s a delicious way to watch your blood pressure, don’t you think?