In celebration of Valentine’s Day, this blog post is dedicated to the heart and what it takes to keep your heart healthy.
According to the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) Heart Disease (Coronary Artery Disease) is still the number one cause of death for both men and women.
High cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking and Diabetes are the key risk factors for developing Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). Additional risk factors include; being overweight, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use.
The good news is that almost all of these risk factors can be prevented, reduced or eliminated with good diet and lifestyle choices.
This means that you can reduce your risk of developing heart disease or, if you already have it, reduce your risk of dying from it.
YOU CAN’T START TOO SOON
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2016 showed that following a healthy diet during adolescence is associated with a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors as an adult.
Another study showed that adults who reach middle age with one of the main risk factors (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 Diabetes) had a lifetime risk of 40-50% for CVD versus only 5-8% for those with ideal levels of these three risk factors at midlife.
This shows that by reducing your risk factors earlier in life you can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW TO REDUCE YOUR RISK:
Not much more to say about smoking, the evidence and association with heart disease is strong. It might not be easy to quit but it will most certainly be worth it.
Physical activity at any age protects against many chronic health problems, including heart disease. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days.
LIMIT ALCOHOL INTAKE
Excessive alcohol consumption (>3 drinks per day) is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.1 However, there does appear to be some cardioprotective benefits to consuming red wine in modest amounts, so try to opt for red wine when you do drink.2
Some recent studies have shown a potential for reduced cardiovascular risk with meditation by reducing blood pressure.
EAT A HEART HEALHY DIET:
Long-term consumption of excessive sugar has been shown to enhance the risk factors associated with coronary artery disease.3
Avoid refined sugar as much as possible and use small amounts of honey, maple syrup and stevia to sweeten when necessary.
LIMIT SATURATED FATS
Saturated fats are associated with an increased risk of mortality. 4
Saturated fats are generally fats that are solid at room temperature and include; animal fats, dairy, palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, and hydrogenated oils.
Use these foods sparingly and avoid processed and packaged foods which are often high in saturated fats.
Limiting sodium is associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure, one of the major risk factors for heart disease. 5
Limit sodium by avoiding processed and packaged foods which are generally high in sodium.
Use unrefined Celtic sea salt when seasoning is required.
EAT MORE FRUITS & VEGETABLES
Fruits and vegetables contain plant sterols, flavonoids, and sulfur-containing compounds that may be important in reducing risk of atherosclerosis.
At least half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables at each meal. See my post on the new Food Guide for more information on proper food portions.
Specifically, eat more cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy etc.) and allium vegetables (leeks and garlic) since consumption is associated with decreased mortality from atherosclerotic vascular disease.6
Studies have shown that garlic may decrease total cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and slow the progression of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries due to plaque formation). Long term garlic consumption also seems to have a protective effect on the elasticity of arteries.7
EAT MORE FIBER
Increased dietary intake of fibre is associated with lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease.8
Aim for at least 35g of fiber per day from:
- vegetables – high in nutrients, complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre
- fruits – high in nutrients and dietary fiber, especially apples which are a rich source of fibre and flavonoids which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack.9
- legumes (beans, peas, lentils etc.)
- oats – have been shown to reduce cholesterol, a major risk factor for heart disease.10
- whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat etc.)
EAT PROBIOTIC FOODS
Studies have shown that eating probiotic foods such as fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir) can reduce blood pressure which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
EAT HEALTHY FATS
Olive oil and Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to be protective against heart disease by reducing oxidative stress.11
Choose Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). Since EVOO is easily damaged by heat it is best to use in homemade salad dressings rather than for cooking.
Top animal based food sources of omega 3 fatty acids*:
- sardines – small fish are very good sources of omega 3 fatty acids and are lower in mercury than larger fish (61% AI* per 3.2oz)
- salmon (55% AI per 4oz)
- beef (46% AI per 4oz) is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids however limit intake of red meats for better heart health.
- shrimp (14% AI per 4oz)
*Adequate intake according to the US National Institute of Health
Top plant-based sources of omega 3 fatty acids*:
Remember to always treat dietary changes as an evolution. Start by slowly replacing unhealthy options with healthier ones and avoid ‘all or nothing’ thinking. What you eat at one particular meal isn’t going to affect your long-term health however your consistent dietary habits will, so try to make these as healthy as possible.
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EAT WELL, FEEL WELL, LIVE WELL