Your diet is a key modifiable (can be changed!) risk factor for heart attacks and strokes, and a healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to prevent them. 1,2 Follow the simple steps below to derive long-term benefits for your health and your heart.
Control your portion size 3
How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. 3 Consuming more calories than you put out can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and diabetes. 1,2 Use a small bowl or plate to help control your portion size. 3 Judging serving size is a learned skill e.g. a serving of meat, chicken or fish should be the size and thickness of a deck of cards. 3
Eat more vegetables and fruit 3
- Good source of vitamins and minerals
- Low in calories
- Rich in dietary fibre
- Contain substances that may help prevent cardiovascular disease
- May help you eat less high-fat foods such as meat, cheese and snack foods
Select more whole grains 3
Whole grains are good sources of fibre and other nutrients that help regulate blood pressure and heart health. Replace white rice, flour, and bread with brown rice, whole wheat flour, rye or whole grain bread. Choose oats, barley, quinoa and buckwheat and avoid pies, cakes, biscuits, doughnuts and high-fat crackers.
Limit unhealthy fats 3
Less than 7% of your total daily calories should be saturated fats and less than 1 % should be trans fats as these fats increase your cholesterol level, build-up of fatty plaques in your arteries and your risk for heart attacks and strokes. Avoid butter, hard margarine, shortening, fats on meat, chicken skin, cookies, crackers and chips. Instead, choose healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats (olive or canola oil) or polyunsaturated fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, and certain fish).
Choose low-fat protein sources 3
Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products and eggs are some of the best choices of protein. Certain fish are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower blood fats called triglycerides. Legumes (peas, beans and lentils) are also good sources of protein and contain less fat and no cholesterol than meat.
Reduce the sodium in your diet 3
Eating a lot of salt can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. 3 Healthy adults should have no more than 1 500 mg of sodium (¾ teaspoon) of salt. 4 Most of the salt in our diet comes from canned or processed foods and not the salt we add at the table or during cooking. 3 Watch out for salt in condiments and sauces and instead use herbs and spices to season your food. 3
More oily fish 4
Try to eat 2 or more servings of fish, preferably oily fish, per week. 4 These fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower blood fats called triglycerides. 3 The highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids is found in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. 3 Other sources include: flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil. 3
Sugar has no nutritional value other than to provide calories. Animal studies have shown that sugar is even more rewarding than cocaine and is probably the most widely consumed addictive substance in humans worldwide. 6 Over the past 200 years the average intake of added sugars has increased from about 2 to 54 kg/year. 6 A diet high in added sugars has been found to cause a 3-fold increased risk of death from heart attacks or strokes. 7 High sugar diets can adversely affect your heart health as they may lead to:
- Unfavourable lipid profile (high bad cholesterol and triglycerides and low good cholesterol in the blood) 7
- Oxidative stress and inflammation of the blood vessels 7
- Insulin resistance and diabetes 7
Not all sugars are bad for you. Sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables pose no threat to your heart. 7 The problem is refined sugars (especially sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) that are found in processed products e.g. sweetened beverages, packaged foods and baked and canned goods. 7
References: 1. World Heart Federation. Diet, overweight and obesity. [Online] 2011 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from: URL: https://www.world-heart-federation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Diet_overweight_and_obesity-2.pdf. 2. American Heart Association. The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. [Online] 2015 Aug [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from: URL: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/The-American-Heart-Associations-Diet-and-Lifestyle-Recommendations_UCM_305855_Article.jsp#.Wl8_jq6WbIU. 3. Mayo Clinic. Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease. [Online] 2015 Mar 18 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from: URL: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-healthy-diet/art-20047702. 4. Lanier JB, Bury DC, Richardson SW. Diet and Physical Activity for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. Am Fam Physician 2016;93(11):919-924. 5. Howard BV, Wylie-Rosett J. Sugar and Cardiovascular Disease: A Statement for Healthcare Professionals From the Committee on Nutrition of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association. Circulation 2002;106:523-527. 6. DiNicolantonio JJ, Okeefe JH. Added sugars drive coronary heart disease via insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia: a new paradigm. Open Heart 2017;4:e000729. 7. DiNicolantonio JJ, Lucan SC, Okeefe JH. The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease. Progress in Cardiovasc Dis 2016;58:464-472