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6 Eating Tips for Better Heart-health

By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 05 October 2020

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular diseases (CVD), which includes heart conditions, are the major cause of death globally. The CVDs responsible for most deaths are heart attacks and strokes. This fact may be alarming but the silver lining is that by consuming a heart-healthy diet, these diseases can be kept at bay. A healthy diet can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke by:

  • Improving the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol level
  • Reducing elevated blood pressure (BP)
  • Managing body weight or body mass index (BMI)
  • Controlling the level of blood sugar

In this article, we will discuss ideas for a heart-healthy diet, and also a few dietary plans which can reduce the risk of heart diseases.

6 tips for a heart-healthy diet

A heart-healthy diet is one with limited intake of salt, sugar, foods cooked in saturated/trans-fat, red meat and increased consumption of vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, and protein-rich foods such as eggs, poultry, etc.

Let us now look at some tips to get you started on a heart-healthy diet:

  • Include healthy fats/oils and limit saturated/trans fats
Healthy fats constitute mono-unsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) which can be found in oils like sesame, olive, peanut, etc. PUFA in avocados, fish (like tuna, salmon, and mackerel), nuts or seeds (like flaxseed, sunflower seed, and walnut) are also good options for a heart-healthy diet. MUFA and PUFA may help in lowering your blood cholesterol level, but they should be used in moderation as they are high in calories.
  • Limit intake of sodium and added sugar
Eating too much salt, the main source of sodium, can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. Hence, you should check for food labelled with sodium, salt, and soda as it may contain hidden salt in it. You can opt for products labelled with low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added. You can also use spices, herbs, garlic, lemon, etc. to season your food in place of salt. You should also limit the consumption of sugar as it can lead to weight gain which, in turn, may increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
  • Filling half of the plate with fruits and vegetables
Including fruits and vegetables in the diet can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Most fruits and vegetables have loads of vitamin C, vitamin A, and beta carotene. The antioxidant nature of these vitamins helps to prevent or slow down the development of atherosclerosis (deposition of fats, cholesterol in the artery walls of the heart). Fruits and vegetables are also a good source of fibre, and consuming them directly rather than juicing it is advisable as most of the fibres are removed during the process of juicing.
  • Include more protein-rich foods
Various protein-rich foods can be a better choice for keeping the heart healthy. One of the best options for vegetarians includes plant-based proteins like nuts, lentils, chickpeas, beans, etc. Fish, seafood, eggs and poultry products (lean cuts) are also rich sources of protein. Red meat should be limited to 1-3 meal servings per week as they are linked with increased risk of heart diseases. Seafood and fishes (salmon, trout, and tuna) also contain omega-3 fatty acids which is good for the heart. Eggs are a good source of protein but since egg yolk contains cholesterol, consume it moderately.
  • Opt for low-fat dairy products
Milk, cheese, and yogurt are important forms of dairy products. These foods are good sources of calcium, protein, potassium, and Vitamin D. Fat-free or low-fat dairy products are considered beneficial for heart health. However, caution is advised considering that many flavoured milk and yogurts have unhealthy added sugars in them.
  • Include more whole grains

Whole wheat, oatmeal, whole oats, brown rice, whole grain corn, millet, popcorn, and whole-grain barley are some of the common healthy whole grain foods. Refined grains retain some of the vitamins (like B1, B2, B3, and B9) and minerals (like iron, magnesium, and selenium) but lack heart-healthy fibre content. Researchers have suggested that dietary fibre improves blood cholesterol levels and lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and even type 2 diabetes.

DASH and Mediterranean diet patterns

These are two popular dietary patterns (not structured diets) that have been recommended by experts and health organizations, since they are known to prevent or reduce the risk of heart diseases. For several years now, the Mediterranean and DASH diets have been ranked as the top 2 in the reputed ‘U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of best diets’.

DASH diet: DASH diet, or “Dietary approaches to stop hypertension” is  a diet recommended to prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). It emphasizes on the consumption of whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean protein, low-fat dairy products, and fibre.  DASH also discourages foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy foods and tropical oils, as well as sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets. Following DASH means limiting sodium at 2,300 mg a day, and eventually lowered to about 1,500 mg.  

Mediterranean diet: This dietary pattern emphasizes plenty of fruits, vegetables, bread and other grains, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds; olive oil as a primary fat source; and dairy products, eggs, fish and poultry in low to moderate amounts. Fish and poultry are more common than red meat in this diet. It also centres on minimally processed, plant-based foods. Wine may be consumed in low to moderate amounts, usually with meals. Fruit is a common dessert instead of processed sweets.

Conclusion

As per the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), choosing a healthy diet, maintaining an optimal weight, doing regular physical exercise, and quitting smoking can significantly reduce the risk heart diseases. Following a heart-healthy diet does not mean making extreme choices and taking to various fads. Starting with small, sustainable changes in your eating habits can go a long way in ensuring you can eat your favourite foods and still be healthy. If you have more questions on which foods are best for your heart health, a cardiologist and dietitian is just an appointment away!

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