With Valentines Day fast approaching, and an image of a heart no more than 6 feet away from you at any one point over the next few weeks, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to talk about heart health and your diet.
When we talk about heart health, in effect, we are talking about Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). It may come of a surprise, but CVD is the leading cause of death in Western countries, and represents almost 30% of all deaths worldwide.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term that describes a disease of the heart or blood vessels. Blood flow to the heart, brain or body can be reduced as the result of a blood clot (thrombosis), or by a build-up of fatty deposits inside an artery that cause the artery to harden and narrow (atherosclerosis).
Things like age, gender, ethnicity and a family history of CVD are all risk factors out of our control. The good news is that there are plenty of risk factors that are within our control! Such as smoking status, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, physical activity levels, and perhaps most importantly, diet and weight management.
In fact, there is strong evidence that healthy diet patterns and certain lifestyle approaches help with prevention of CVD. The question as always, is what constitutes a healthy diet for CVD?
The heart foundation recommends the following;
- Plenty of fruits, vegetables and wholegrain.
- A variety of healthy protein sources (especially fish and seafood), legumes (such as beans and lentils), nuts and seeds. Smaller amounts of eggs and lean poultry can also be included in a heart healthy diet. If choosing red meat, make sure it is lean and limit to 1-3 times a week.
- Unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese. Those with high blood cholesterol should choose reduced fat varieties.
- Healthy fat choices – nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and their oils for cooking
- Herbs and spices to flavour foods, instead of adding salt.
Portion size is also crucial for weight management. This is a larger topic and one we cover in depth in our Health Eating Plan. If you struggle to lose or control your weight, check out our nutrition page for more details about the plan and how it can help.
What foods can help?
Although there is no one ‘magic’ food to lower our risk of developing heart disease, regardless of how many super foods are out there, there is some evidence that some foods are important for heart health. These include:
- Oily fish – such as mackerel, sardines, tuna and salmon, which contain omega-3 fatty acids. This type of fat has been shown to decrease triglycerides (a type of fat) and increase HDL-cholesterol levels, improve blood vessel elasticity and thin the blood, making it less likely to clot and block blood flow.
- Fruit and vegetables – fibre, potassium and other micronutrients (such as antioxidants in fruit and vegetables offer protection against heart disease. They are also an important source of folate – which helps lower the blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which appears to be linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
- Wholegrains – a diet high in fibre from wholegrain cereals is linked to reduced LDL cholesterol and lowered heart disease risk. Foods with high levels of soluble fibre (for example, oats, legumes and barley) are great for lowering total cholesterol levels.
- Legumes, nuts and seeds– are good sources of plant proteins, fibre, healthy fats and micronutrients to help lower your cardiovascular risk.
- Tea– some research suggests antioxidants in tea can help prevent the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries. They may also act as an anti-blood clotting agent and improve blood vessel dilation to allow increased blood flow.
- Foods containing vitamin E– some studies indicate that vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect against LDL cholesterol.
- Sources of vitamin Einclude – avocados, dark green vegetables, vegetable oils and wholegrain products. Eat foods containing vitamin E rather than supplements, which have not been shown to have the same protective effects.
- Garlic– a compound in fresh garlic (called allicin) has been found to lower total and LDL cholesterol in the blood, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
How to reduce your risk of CVD with healthy eating
- Limit fried fast food and processed foods.
- Replace energy from saturated fats (such as butter, coconut oil and cream) with healthy unsaturated fats from seeds and plants (such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, sunflower, canola, safflower, peanut, soybean and sesame) and foods such as nuts, seeds, avocado and olives.
- Increase the amount and variety of plant foods – eat more fruit and vegetables.
- Reduce intake of refined carbohydrates (including foods with added sugars).
- Limit unprocessed red meats (such as beef, veal, mutton, lamb, pork, rabbit, and other game meats) to a maximum of 350g (cooked weight) per week and avoid processed meat (such as sausages, ham, salami and prosciutto).
- Trim all visible fat from meat and remove skin from poultry.
- Snack on a handful of raw, unsalted nuts on most days of the week (especially walnuts and almonds).
- Eat oily fish at least once per week.
- Reduce your salt intake – avoid packaged and processed foods, limit fast foods and salty foods. Replace salt at the table and in cooking, with herbs and spices for flavour.
- Check the sodium content of foods and choose the lowest sodium products.
- If you drink alcohol, have no more than two standard drinks on any one day. A high alcohol intake increases blood pressure and can increase triglycerides in the blood.
So there you have it. Some dietary recommendations for improved heart health, some foods to include in your diets, and some things to avoid!
If you have any questions, please leave us a comment. We would love to hear from you!
Your Glow Team