Nutrition for Heart Health



Did you know that it is possible to reduce or prevent high blood pressure and cholesterol by changing your diet? We explain below which foods to increase and which to decrease in order to improve your heart health.


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Increase

Fibre
Fibre reduces bad “LDL” cholesterol. Wholegrains, fruit and vegetables are all rich in fibre. Oats and apples are particularly good at helping to remove excess cholesterol from the body, so try oatmeal for breakfast with apple slices! Try and use whole oats rather than the “quick cook” refined oats, as whole oats have more fibre.

Wholegrains, beans, lentils and green leafy vegetables
These foods are rich in fibre and the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium - all of which are important for controlling blood pressure. Kashi and Nature’s Path make some excellent wholegrain cereals. Try the Lundberg brand of brown rice. Eden Organic have tinned lentils which are easy to prepare as a side. Try broccoli, kale and spinach for your leafy greens.

Fruit and vegetables
All fruits and vegetables are rich in fibre and packed full of vitamin C, which maintains the elasticity of blood vessels. Vitamin C also helps fibre to remove cholesterol from the body AND inhibits excessive cholesterol production. Further, fruits and vegetables are rich in the antioxidants that help to prevent cholesterol from becoming oxidized within the body.

Celery
Celery contains a natural chemical called 3-n-butyl phthalide that has been shown to lower blood pressure. It also stimulates the production of bile acids, which actively helps to lower total cholesterol. Try it with hummus or salsa dips, in casseroles, soups, salads or stir-fries.

Garlic and onions
Studies show that garlic and onions help to lower blood pressure in individuals with elevated blood pressure levels. Use them liberally in your cooking!

Good fats
Fish, especially oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, have an excellent omega 3 “good fat” content. Omega 3 has been shown to help thin the blood and reduce blood pressure. Aim to eat oily fish three times a week (baked or grilled, but not fried). 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 heart healthy nuts such as walnuts and almonds. Make sure all nuts and seeds you eat are raw, as roasting them can ruin their good fat content and make them harmful; also keep nut serving sizes small (1oz).


Decrease

Alcohol
The American Heart Association recommends no more than two drinks daily for men and one for women. Also note that alcohol interferes with blood sugar balance and increases the production of free radicals – both of which damage arteries. Red wine does contain polyphenols which help to protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. It also contains resveratrol which prevents damage to blood vessels, reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol and prevents blood clots. However, moderation is key!

Sodium
Too much sodium and too little potassium can increase the pressure from the muscle surrounding your heart, which in turn increases blood pressure. Check food labels for sodium content and aim for less than 1,500 mg daily (that’s a little more than half a teaspoon.) Ready meals, sauces, deli meats (especially smoked meat or fish) and snack foods often contain a lot of sodium. However, it’s not enough to simply reduce sodium – you need to increase potassium rich foods too (see above).

Bad fats
Reducing bad (trans and saturated) fat is the single most important heart healthy step you can take – even above eating less cholesterol! Bad, saturated fats can cause dangerous blood clots. Avoid saturated, hydrogenated and trans fats – such as those found in fried foods (e.g. KFC, chips), margarines, cookies, full-fat dairy products, red meat, cakes, pastries, creamy sauces and other processed foods. As animal proteins are higher in saturated fats than vegetable proteins, experiment with some vegetarian or vegan dishes.

Refined carbohydrates
Refined, processed carbohydrates such as sugar and white bread, rice and pasta, lack the nutritional value and fibre of their complex counterparts (whole grain bread, pasta and cereals). The refined versions also place a great deal of stress on the body’s insulin response, which ultimately can contribute to type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is one of the greatest risk-factors for heart disease as it places a huge amount of pressure on the vascular system.

Go easy on high cholesterol foods
Go easy on 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. What foods contain cholesterol? It’s easy – cholesterol is made by the liver, so anything that comes from something that had a liver (e.g. an animal or fish) contains cholesterol.


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