An Easy Guide to Heart-Healthy Foods

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in Bermuda. In some cases, lifestyle changes can go a long way to protect your heart. For starters you can help to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check by improving your diet. Though no easy task, by separating foods into categories of what to increase and decrease in your diet, eating nutritiously might be easier than you think.

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Foods to increase

Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamin C, which may protect against cardiovascular disease. Fruits and vegetables also are rich in the antioxidants that help to prevent cholesterol from becoming oxidized within the body.

While high blood pressure often has a genetic component, some studies indicate there may be cardio-health benefits from a diet rich in fibre and the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium, such as whole grains, beans, lentils and green leafy vegetables. Broccoli, kale and spinach are ideal leafy greens.

Fish, especially oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, have an excellent omega 3 “good fat” content as do various nuts and seeds. Omega 3 has been shown to help thin the blood and reduce blood pressure. Aim to eat oily fish – baked or grilled – three times a week. In addition, use canola, safflower or olive oil when cooking and add flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds to granola, cereals or yoghurts. Snack on one-ounce servings of raw healthy nuts such as walnuts and almonds.

Foods to decrease

Reducing bad (trans and saturated) fat is the single most important heart healthy step you can take as bad fats can cause dangerous blood clots. Avoid saturated, hydrogenated and trans fats, such as those found in fried foods, margarine, cookies, full-fat dairy produce, red meat, cakes, pastries, creamy sauces and other processed foods.

Refined, processed carbohydrates such as sugar and white bread, rice and pasta, lack the nutritional value and fibre of their whole grain counterparts and can contribute to type 2 diabetes – one of the greatest risk factors for heart disease.

Limit your alcohol intake to two drinks daily for men and one for women. Alcohol interferes with blood sugar balance and increases the production of free radicals, both of which damage arteries. While there are some benefits to drinking red wine, moderation is key.

Too much sodium and too little potassium can increase blood pressure. Aim for less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily while increasing potassium rich foods. Read labels because ready meals, sauces, deli meats and snack foods often contain lots of sodium.

Be careful of foods that are naturally high in cholesterol – especially shrimp, meat, eggs and dairy products. However, if you are following the other steps well, it’s ok to have these foods occasionally.

Finally, don’t ruin healthy food by cooking it in an unhealthy way. Bake, grill or steam – never deep fry.

To ensure you’re making healthy choices at the grocery store, plan ahead and take a shopping list containing the healthy items you need. 

This is not a substitute for professional advice, you should always consult with your independent professional advisor.