Once thought as the seat of emotions and intelligence, the heart has always been a recurring topic of discussion in the search for a better understanding of the body. Here nutritionist and yogi Elisa Pineda looks at the foods we can eat for maximum heart health.
We now know that alongside the heart’s real function of pumping blood around the body also sits the absorption of nutrients and oxygen assimilation, both of which are essential for life.
These vital functions can be disrupted because of your lifestyle choices. Today, heart disease is the leading cause of death around the world. Every year, 17.3 million people die as a result. It is expected that by 2030, 23.6 million people will die because of it. However, heart disease is preventable!
One of the main factors that can lead to heart disease (as well as tobacco use, being sedentary, and a high intake of alcohol) is an unbalanced diet. What you eat can make a difference in the prevention of heart disease and the maintenance of your heart health.
How To Eat For Heart Health
1. Reduce Your Salt Intake:
One of the greatest threats to your heart health is processed food and its high sodium content. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) your intake of sodium should be less than 2g a-day of sodium, or what is equivalent to 5g of salt a day for adults.
Salt can be hidden in most processed, packaged foods and even every day foods (see below). Whilst salt is good for preserving food and boosting its flavour (even of sweets and desserts), it can be highly addictive.
However, just as your tongue can become easily accustomed to salty foods, a gradual decrease in the salt you consume can help you improve your savouring and enjoyment and give your health a boost.
Be mindful of which foods you need to watch out for due to their high salt content:
- A store-bought veggie burger can contain 398 milligrams of sodium; around 20% of your daily allowance (DA) of salt already in one go.
- A ½-cup serving of tomato sauce contains around 642 milligrams of sodium, 30% of your daily allowance.
- 2 Tbsp of your salad dressing can contain more sodium than in an entire bag of crisps: 260 mg per serving, 13 % of your DA.
- Pitta bread contains a heavy dose of sodium: 284 milligrams in just one piece (14% DA).
- Cottage cheese contains 270 milligrams of sodium, more than 255 milligrams of sodium, which is the amount you’ll find in a one, ½-ounce packet of crisps (13% DA).
2. Trans Fat
Trans-fat can be found in animal sources and in partial hydrogenation of unsaturated vegetable oils, which are present in many processed foods. Including trans-fat in your diet can increase your bad cholesterol whilst too much of it can also lower your good cholesterol. What’s more, scientific studies such as this one by the World Heart Federation have shown that trans fat can increase the risk of heart disease.
3. Dental Health Also Matters For Your Heart
A diet rich in meat and sugars can lead to the accumulation of bacteria in your mouth or dental plaque. Studies have suggested that lack of healthy dental habits could lead to the migration of oral bacteria into the bloodstream which could injure major organs, therefore increasing the risk of heart disease. To avoid this, it’s as simple as washing your teeth after every meal.
Eat More Of These Foods To Protect Your Heart:
Previous studies have indicated that whole-grain intake can protect you from heart disease, thanks to whole grains being so rich in fibre. There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble.
Most foods rich in fibre contain some of both. Fibre does more than take care of your digestion; it can also improve your heart’s health, by reducing your brad cholesterol. Science suggests that fibre can bind to cholesterol in the digestive system, taking it out off your body’s system by binding with its particles and inhibiting its absorption into your digestive system.
Fatty fish and fish oils are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Some nuts and seeds as well as plant oils like canola, flaxseed and walnuts also contain omega-3. Clinical trials suggest that people at risk of heart disease can benefit from including foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids into their diets.
The colour in each fruit and vegetable represents different type of micronutrients that can be heart-saving. Loaded with antioxidants including phytochemicals (plant compounds that have protective or disease preventative qualities), flavonoids, fibre and potassium, fruits and vegetables are an indispensable aid in the fight against heart disease.
According to the WHO, a daily intake of at least 400g of fruit and vegetables is recommended. Just as a note of caution if you take statins – which are cholesterol-lowering drugs – be aware that grapefruit products may interfere with the drug’s action.
A balanced, colourful and diverse diet is one of the best ways you can protect yourself from heart disease. Avoid foods rich in salt and balance them out or even replace them with foods rich in potassium like fruits and vegetables. Instead of going for processed, packaged foods go for fresh, less processed options, such as nuts and seeds rich in omega-3. Through a hearty and balanced diet you can go a long way along the path of heart disease prevention.