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A heart healthy diet

Diet plays a central role in heart health and is backed by a large body of research. Sasha shares some tips on eating better for your heart.

The statistics

 

There are 7.6 million people with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK. Sadly, around 70 people will die in the UK from heart attacks every day and every five minutes, someone will be admitted to hospital because of a heart attack (British Heart Foundation).

 

The good news is that much of this is preventable through better diet, exercise and stopping smoking.

 

Embrace a Mediterranean way of eating

 

Healthy eating for a healthy heart isn’t just about eating certain foods but rather about a good dietary pattern over days, weeks and months made up of combinations of certain foods. There is lots of evidence to show that a traditional Mediterranean diet or dietary pattern reduces your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke and is associated with other health benefits too (see references below for more information).

 

A Mediterranean diet comprises lots of unprocessed, whole foods across the food groups. It's a plant heavy diet, full of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Another cornerstone of the diet is that it is rich in 'healthy fats' from extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, and nuts. Less dairy, red meat and no processed foods are typically eaten compared to standard UK diet.

 

As a result, the diet is rich in plant diversity, whole-grains, fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and unsaturated fats and low in 'unhealthy' fats such as saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugar.

Tips for eating a heart healthy diet

 

1. Make your diet more Mediterranean - Familiarise yourself with this way of eating and plan your meals accordingly. It may help to find some recipes online that capture this dietary style and plan meals at the start of the week. Here are some tips from BHF.

 

2. Aim for 5 a day - Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables every day and spread them across breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Fresh, frozen, dried or tinned all count!

 

3. Eat more legumes - peas, beans and lentils release their energy slowly and thought to be good for heart health.


4. Healthy fats for a healthy heart - Healthy fats to include in your diet are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6) fats. You can find these healthier fats in extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, oily fish and seeds. It's important to remember that all fats and oils are high in calories, so keep an eye on how much of these you eat


5. Choose high fibre foods - Wholegrain cereals contain important heart health nutrients such as dietary fibre, B vitamins, and healthy fats. When you eat carbohydrates choose wholegrains such as whole wheat or brown rice.


6. Keep an eye on salt - Eating too much salt can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. You shouldn’t have more than 6g/day (about a teaspoon) and many of us are eating more than that as it is often hidden in many of the foods we eat. Start looking at labels and get an idea of how much you are eating each day.

 

7. Limit processed foods - Avoid pastries, fried and fast food options as these tend to be high in fat, salt and sugar.

 

8. Consider cholesterol lowering foods - Plant sterols and stanols (found in Benecol or Flora Proactive), soya, soya products and oats are thought to have cholesterol lowering benefits which in turn support better heart health.

 

9. Stick to national guidelines for alcohol - Limit intake to no more than 14 per week spread over three or more days and aim for two alcohol free days a week.

 

10. Watch your weight - By achieving a healthier weight you can improve your blood cholesterol or blood pressure levels.

 

Sasha Watkins

Registered dietitian and co-founder of Field Doctor

IG: @sashadietitian

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