8 February, 2022
Eating to protect your heart
What we eat day to day can affect our overall health and wellbeing. With all the information on social media and the internet, it can be hard to work out what are the right choices for you and your heart. Poor diet is a major risk factors for heart disease. So where do we start?
A good place is including a wide variety of fresh unprocessed foods from all five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and meat. This allows us to eat low in salt, added sugars and unhealthy fats
Fruit, vegetables and wholegrains
The first thing I think of when someone says hearth health is fruit and vegetables. Not only do they contain lots of vitamin and minerals they also contain antioxidants and fibre. These help to reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol.
Wholegrains, like fruit and vegetables, also contain and range of important vitamin and minerals as well as lots of fibre. Swapping to multigrain bread, brown rice or oats can seem a small change but comes with great benefits.
Fats and oils are a key dietary component that can affect our risk of developing heart disease. There are two main types of fat to consider for heart disease: ‘healthy’ unsaturated fats and ‘unhealthy’ saturated fats. Healthy fats are found in plant-based sources like avocado, nuts and seeds and plant oils such as olive oil, as well as in animal sources like fish. These foods can help lower our cholesterol and help prevent the development of heart disease. ‘Unhealthy’ saturated fats are found in animal products such as red meat, poultry, and dairy. These foods can increase our blood cholesterol and increase the risk of developing heart disease.
Protein is an important part of every diet; however, some protein choices can be better than others.
When we are thinking about heart health, we are also thinking about avoiding saturated fats. Although meat is a great source of protein, too much can have an impact on our heart health. Limiting our intake, especially of red meat, to 3 meals per week has been shown to be beneficial. Therefore, choosing plant-based protein sources, such as lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, nuts and seeds, are better options for our heart. Additionally, fish, unlike other meat products, contain healthy unsaturated fats and are also good heart healthy protein sources.
Although dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese, don’t have a direct impact on your risk of heart disease, they are an important food group providing range of nutrients including calcium and protein. Both of these nutrients play a crucial role in helping our heart contract and pump blood around our bodies.
It is generally suggested to choose dairy products without flavouring or added sugars.
If you have heart disease, or high cholesterol, it is recommended that you choose low fat dairy options.
Herbs and spices
Instead of using salt, which can contribute to high blood pressure (a risk factor for heart disease), herbs and spices can help increase the flavour of dishes without increasing our risk of heart disease.
Simple changes and swaps can have a huge impact on our long-term health. Setting yourself goals and changing things gradually can allow these changes to feel small and easy.
And of course there is no harm in enjoying all your favourite foods now and then if your day to day diet contains these healthy building blocks.
About the Author
Ellie Anderson - Nutritionist & Dietitian
Ellie is a friendly and passionate dietitian and nutritionist. She's completed postgraduate training in both the FODMAP diet for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and disordered eating. She understands that athletes, those with IBS and others frequently turn to restrictive diets and this can lead to disordered eating.
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- Dietary Patterns and Cardiovascular Disease Outcomes: an Evidence Check rapid review brokered by the Sax Institute for the National Heart Foundation of Australia, 2017 Ndanuko et al (2019)