A Heart Healthy Diet
The heart is part of the complex cardiovascular system which also comprises of the blood, and blood vessels (veins, arteries, and capillaries). All these components work together to transport oxygen and essential nutrients in the blood to where they are needed in the body. A healthy cardiovascular system is therefore crucial for optimal health.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors
CVD is an umbrella term referring to a group of conditions that affect our cardiovascular system.
CVD causes just over a quarter of all deaths in the UK (British Heart Foundation, 2020). This highlights that as a nation we do not do a good job of keeping our hearts and cardiovascular system healthy!
The two biggest killers worldwide and in the UK are coronary heart disease and strokes (WHO, 2018). These are primarily caused by a build-up of fatty substances in the blood vessels that supply the heart and brain. The build-up of these fatty substances is often linked to an unhealthy diet.
Cardiovascular risk is often less about managing high cholesterol and more about focusing on other possible imbalances in the body including inflammation, cellular damage (known as oxidative stress), unbalance blood sugar, high blood pressure, maintenance of optimal weight and any possible autoimmune processes.
Other risk factors of CVD include:
- Family history
- Ethnic background
- Physical inactivity
To reduce CVD risk, it is important to manage and maintain all controllable factors.
Just to be clear, cholesterol is an absolutely necessary natural substance that is manufactured by the body. It is used to created cell membranes, bile acids, vitamin D, stress hormones like cortisol, and our sex hormones including progesterone, testosterone and oestrogen.
Cholesterol is a biological necessity, not a villain. Most of our cholesterol is manufactured by our body, with a smaller amount coming from our food.
Cholesterol is a lipid, a biochemical cousin of fat, and therefore can’t travel through blood (water) on its own. It is transported through the body in ‘containers’ known as lipoproteins which vary according to the ratio of protein, fat and cholesterol they contain, hence high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Not all HDL is so called ‘good cholesterol’ and not all LDL is so called ‘bad cholesterol.’ It’s a little more complex than that.
Eating for a healthy heart
A nutrient dense diet is the key to a healthy heart, but a number of specific foods have been found to be especially beneficial for reducing CVD risk. Below are our top tips for a healthy heart:
1. Up the fibre
Studies have found that high fibre foods may help reduce blood pressure, inflammation, and total blood cholesterol levels which in turn reduces CVD risk. Foods high in fibre include fruit, vegetables, wholemeal products, beans and pulses.
2. Consider the type of fat
Data shows that diets high in saturated fat and trans-fatty acid may contribute to increased heart disease. In contrast, diets high in unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids consistently lower CVD risk. Foods high in heart-friendly fats include olive oil, nuts, seeds, and oily fish. Aim to include oily fish 2-3 times per week.
3. Limit the salt
Diets high in salt can increase blood pressure, which is a risk factor of CVD. Therefore try to limit your consumption of salt. Foods to reduce include ready meals, processed meat, salted snacks and pre-made sauces..
4. Reduce your sugar intake
Studies show excess sugar consumption in adults increases CVD risk. One of the main reasons for this is the increased likelihood of becoming overweight. Foods to limit include fizzy drinks, juices, cakes, sweets, and pre-made sauces.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet describes traditional diets from countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Spain, and Italy. It is well recognised as a diet for optimal health and especially a healthy heart because it combines all of the guidelines above.
In general, the Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, wholegrain products , fish, and unsaturated fats, with a lower intake of meat and dairy products.
How we can help you?
Cardiovascular health is traditionally measured using cholesterol levels. However, recent studies show that about 50% of heart attacks and strokes occur in people with ‘normal’ cholesterol levels.
While it is important to assess cholesterol levels, additional markers also associated with adverse cardiac events can help to better evaluate cardiovascular risk. That is why we look at different markers of inflammation to help us to understand more specifically the development of any metabolic or cardiovascular diseases.
Our nutrition team will analyse your comprehensive blood profile Thereafter your practitioner will work with you to create a personalised nutritional and lifestyle protocol to help you achieve your goals and reach optimal health.
Let us help you feel better.
British Heart Foundation. (2020). UK Factsheet. Available at https://www.bhf.org.uk/-/media/files/research/heart-statistics/bhf-cvd-statistics-uk-factsheet.pdf?la=en
World Health Organisation (WHO). (2018). The top 10 causes of death. Available at https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
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