What you eat can have a huge impact on your heart – whether you’re eating too many salty foods or not enough oily fish.
A healthy heart diet can reduce your risk of heart disease by cutting out certain foodstuffs and eating more healthy options.
So what steps can you take to ensure you have a healthy heart diet?
1. Reduce your salt intake
While salt has an important part to play in some of the body’s functions, too much can be harmful.
In the UK, it is recommended that you eat no more than 6 grams of salt per day as part of a healthy heart diet. However, what a lot of people don’t realise is that 75% of this daily intake is found in everyday foods like bread, pasta and cereals.
Studies show that reducing salt intake lowers blood pressure in people who have had previously high blood pressure and in those of us with normal blood pressure. Lower blood pressure reduces your risk of strokes, heart attacks and heart failure.
Salt causes high blood pressure by affecting the kidney’s ability to filter water from the blood for cleaning. The more salt in your body means the less water it can filter out. This means that there’s more fluid in your veins and arteries leading to higher blood pressure.
To reduce your salt intake you can avoid these high-salt foods as part of your healthy heart diet:
- Bacon, salami, ham and other cured meats
- Salted and dry-roasted nuts
- Soy sauce
- Stock cubes or gravy granules
- Yeast extract
2. Cut down on high fat foods
While certain types of fat and oils can be helpful as part of a healthy heart diet, saturated animal fats can lead to an increased risk of heart and vascular diseases including heart attacks, angina and stroke.
Saturated fats increase the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body. This is called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and can cause fatty material to build up in your artery walls.
These types of fats are found in products like:
- Butter, lard, ghee, coconut oil and palm oil
- Red meats
- Chicken and turkey skins
- Some cheeses
- Junk foods (crisps, chips, processed meats and ready meals)
3. Make oily fish part of your regular diet
Certain types of oils like those found in some fish are a vital part of a healthy heart diet. Eating a weekly portion of fish that is high in Omega-3 has been shown to cut the risk of sudden cardiac death by half.
Part of the reason Omega-3 is so good for a health heart diet is that it reduces triglyceride levels, which is a type of blood fat. Having high levels of triglyceride puts you at risk of heart disease.
Foods that are high in Omega-3 include:
- Oily fish like anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines and fresh tuna
- Nuts like walnuts
- Some oils including flaxseed and canola
- Vegetables like broccoli and spinach
4. Other things to consider
There are a number of other factors that can lead to a healthy heart diet. These include:
- Reducing alcohol consumption – high levels of drinking can increase blood pressure and damage the heart muscles.
- Reducing sugar intake – studies show that people who have high levels of blood glucose linked with eating sweets or highly processed starches have an increased risk of heart disease.
- Removing processed foods from your diet – processed food contains high levels of saturated fats, sugar and salt. By cooking your food from scratch you can better control your intake of these.
- Reducing fried foods – As oil is heated it becomes more easily absorbed into foods and therefore into your diet. Research has found that those who eat fried food once every week have a greater risk of type-2 diabetes and heart disease. The risk increases as the frequency of fried food consumption increases.
- Avoiding triglycerides – These blood fats can be reduced by cutting your alcohol consumption, reducing your intake of saturated fats, trans- fats (artificial fats that can lead to heart disease) and cholesterol in your diet, and eating more omega-3 rich foods.
Remember, a sustainable level of good health cannot be achieved by diet alone, but in conjunction with regular exercise. For tips on manageable exercises for all levels, see our cardiologist-approved exercises and easy exercises you can do at work.
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