Foods to add
Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants like vitamin C and may protect against cardiovascular disease by stopping cholesterol from becoming oxidized within the body. Try to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
While high blood pressure often has a genetic component, a healthy lifestyle has a huge impact on overall health. Some studies indicate there may be cardio-health benefits from a diet rich in fibre, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Look to whole grains, beans, lentils and green leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale, or spinach to provide these key nutrients.
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 proven to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Aim to eat oily fish – baked or grilled – three times a week. It may be beneficial to swap out your cooking oils for canola, safflower or olive oil when preparing meals. Adding a dash of flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds to granola, cereals or yogurts can also help with incorporating Omega-3 from plants. Seeds also keep you feeling fuller longer, helping limit overall food intake, which may be beneficial. When you’re craving a midday snack, consider one-ounce servings (the size of the centre of the palm of your hand) of raw healthy nuts such as walnuts and almonds.
Foods to limit
Reducing bad (trans and saturated) fats from your diet is the single most important heart-healthy step you can take. Shifting some of the recommended food off your plate may not seem like a huge leap, but it may have big consequences for your heart health in the long run. Avoid saturated, hydrogenated and trans fats, such as those found in fried foods, margarine, cookies, red meat, cakes, pastries, creamy sauces and other processed foods. These types of fats create inflammation, insulin resistance, and spike blood pressure – a cocktail of health issues that can lead to not just heart disease, but hypertension, diabetes, and stroke.
Refined, processed carbohydrates such as sugar, white bread, rice, and pasta lack the nutritional value and fibre that we see in their whole-grain counterparts and impact the body in similar ways to trans fats. Consider limiting 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 as well. Potassium acts in the opposite way that sodium does on your body, so it is ideal to aim for less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily while increasing potassium-rich foods such as bananas, avocado, or lentils. Read nutrition labels carefully. Ready-made meals, sauces, deli meats, and snack foods, while convenient, often contain lots of hidden sodium and sugar.
Lastly, take note of healthy foods that are naturally high in cholesterol – especially shrimp, meat, eggs, and dairy products. If you are following a well-balanced diet, they can be incorporated into your meals mindfully and in delicious ways. Remember that healthy meals can be made unhealthy by preparing them in certain ways. Bake, air-fry, grill or steam – avoid deep frying – for a healthier preparation.
The most important piece of advice? Take the time to enjoy your food and nutrition. Good planning and diets only work when you can keep them up, so take note of healthy foods you enjoy eating and preparing.
To learn more about incorporating new foods into your routine, consider speaking with a nutrition specialist. To make healthy choices at the grocery store, plan ahead with a list of all the items you need.
For more heart-healthy nutritional tips, reach out to the Bermuda Heart Foundation or a Registered Dietitian.