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How you can eat to your hearts content

Healthy heart

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 UK.

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!

Eat Wholefoods

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.

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About the author

Cecilia Jaarsma

About Cecilia:

  • BSc (Hons) Human Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Qualified FODMAP trained dietitian and currently leading our FODMAP group programme.
  • Qualified fitness instructor and experienced advising on sports nutrition. Qualification obtained from Discovery Learning. Fitness Instructor Training – Post Graduate Certification.

Cecilia has worked as a dietitian for the past 9 years specialising in various fields such as oncology, gastroenterology, Nutrition Support and obesity. Continuous NHS service started in 2009. She qualified from the North West University in 2008 with a BSc Hons in Nutrition and Dietetics.

Continuing professional development in: gastrointestinal disorders, low FODMAP diet, nutrition support, diabetes, obesity, cognitive behavior therapy, Motivation, mental health and eating disorders, sports nutrition, cancer.

Cecilia is registered with the Health Professions Council and is a member of the British Dietetic Association. Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals to be statutory regulated and governed by an ethical code to ensure they always work to the highest standard.

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