How you can “Eat To Your Heart’s Content”
February is all about the heart and your loved ones. But the heart is delicate and the heart breaking fact is that Cardiovascular (heart and circulatory) disease causes more than a quarter (26 per cent) of all deaths in the UK1. But the good news is, in most cases heart disease is completely preventable and your diet plays a huge part in this. So, here are our top 3 and worst 3 things that you can eat to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Eat more fish
Why? Most fish (especially oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines and tuna) contain high levels of Omega-3 which studies have shown will lower the risk of heart attacks.
A study on men living in Japan found the rate of heart disease is less than half that of men living in the U.S. Blood tests found Japanese men had twice the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood2.
So how do you increase omega-3 fatty acids in your blood? It is best to get omega-3 from foods (rather than as a supplement) as there is not enough evidence to suggest that omega-3 supplements benefit healthy adults or children. Also, when you decide to go the supplement route, the amount of choices on the shelfs are endless and so confusing that you may as well take a sure bet and go visit the fish section in the shop. Go for fresh shellfish and try and avoid picking the old shelf-fish!
Why? Diets rich in whole and unprocessed foods, like whole grains, dark green and yellow/orange-fleshed vegetables and fruits, pulses, nuts and seeds, contain high concentrations of antioxidant phenolics and numerous other phytochemicals that in many cases can protect against chronic diseases3. Wholefoods are a good source of fibre and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health.
Here are some examples of wholefoods:
- Wholemeal bread, bran and wholegrain cereals – contain fibre which acts as a ‘sponge’ to soak up the cholesterol in your blood.
- Fruit and Vegetables
- Potatoes with their skins on
- Oats and barley
- Pulses such as beans, peas and lentils
Maximise your intake of unsaturated fats
Why? Unsaturated fats tends to raise the level of HDL ('good') cholesterol in the blood. HDL cholesterol brings cholesterol to your liver, which sends it out of your body. So you want as much HDL as possible. Examples are avocados, nuts, seeds, flaxseed, sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil.
And the 3 things to avoid:
Reduce your salt intake
Why? Too much salt can cause raised blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.4 It is recommended to reduce your salt intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams a day (about a half teaspoon).
Tips on how to reduce your salt intake:
- Be careful of hidden salt and always check the nutritional information on food labels. Most labels indicate high salt in red similar to a traffic light. The low salt options is <0.3g/100g high salt is >1.5g/100g.
- Add less salt when cooking and don't add salt to your food at the table. Salt preference is an acquired taste that can be unlearned. It takes about 6-8 weeks to get used to eating food with much lower quantities of salt.
- Use alternative flavouring such as herbs, garlic, spices or pepper.
- Watch out for processed and canned foods often has additional salt as preservative. Other examples include cooking sauces and seasonings like soy sauce.
- Swap salty snacks such as crisps and salted nuts for the unsalted options or fruit and vegetables snacks instead.
- Avoid obviously salty foods such as marmite, bacon, cheese, takeaways and ready meals.
Avoid a Sedentary Lifestyle
All heart-healthy articles will tell you the benefits of plenty of exercise, but not many explore the real dangers of doing no exercise. Doing nothing does not just keep you at a level point…you are actually gradually weakening your heart and cardiovascular system.
Even basic exercise will secrete endorphins to reduce stress levels, increase mood, helps manage obesity, blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels, and diabetes — these are just a few of the hundreds of more reasons to get moving.
Avoid foods high in saturated fats
Why? Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke
Examples are solid fats such as butter and margarine and lard. Other examples are fat on meat such as chicken and red meat, cream, cheeses, cakes and biscuits.
3 Source: Bruce, B; Spiller, GA; Klevay, LM; Gallagher, SK (2000). "A diet high in whole and unrefined foods favorably alters lipids, antioxidant defenses, and colon function" (PDF). Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 19 (1): 61–7. doi:10.1080/07315724.2000.10718915. PMID 10682877
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