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Issue 11 * 10 February 2024

Heart Matters: How Your Diet Can Make a Difference to Cardiovascular Health

Making healthy food choices is key to a healthy heart and can positively influence everything from blood pressure to cholesterol levels and inflammation. This article shares advice on choosing the right foods to boost heart health and prevent heart disease.

Claudia Le Feuvre

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The 6 Best Foods for a Healthy Heart

Certain foods stand out for their heart-healthy properties. These include:

Leafy green vegetables: Spinach, kale, and other greens are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help regulate blood pressure and improve arterial function.

Berries: Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients that support heart health.

Avocados: High in monounsaturated fats, avocados can improve cholesterol levels and reduce heart disease risk.

Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to decrease the risk of arrhythmias and atherosclerosis, as well as increase the good cholesterol, HDL (more on this later).

Wholegrains: Foods like brown rice, oats, and quinoa can improve cholesterol levels and protect against heart disease. 

Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are nutrient-dense foods that can enhance heart health through their beneficial fats, fibres, and proteins.

While incorporating these heart-healthy foods into your diet is a great start, understanding how they contribute to lowering cholesterol offers further insight into their benefits.

How to Lower Cholesterol Through Diet and Nutrition

Cholesterol levels are a critical factor in heart health. Saturated fats, found in meat, butter, and cheese, can all raise LDL (the bad cholesterol). Reducing the intake of trans fats, commonly found in processed and fried foods, is also crucial for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Foods high in soluble fibre (such as oats, beans, lentils, and certain fruits) can help lower LDL cholesterol. Oats are famously rich in beta-glucans that lower cholesterol and improve heart health. (You may have noticed the British Heart Foundation’s stamp of approval on your packet of oats.) 

Incorporating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like flaxseeds, walnuts, and fatty fish, can also improve cholesterol profiles by increasing HDL (the good) cholesterol and reducing triglyceride levels. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that the body cannot produce on its own, making it necessary to obtain them through diet. These fats are further known for their role in enhancing heart health by reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, decreasing triglyceride levels, and reducing the risk of heart failure and arrhythmias. The best sources of omega-3s include fatty fish, such as sardines, pilchards, herring, salmon and mackerel, as well as plant-based sources like flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Aim to eat at least 1-2 portions of oily fish every week. 

Recognising which foods to eat is crucial, but adopting a comprehensive dietary pattern can simplify these choices and ensure you’re covering all bases for heart health.

What's the Best Diet for Heart Health?

When it comes to heart health, there’s no one-size-fits-all, but certain dietary patterns stand out for their heart benefits:

Plant-Based Diets: Adopting a plant-based diet, or even increasing the number of plant-based meals you eat, can have profound effects on cardiovascular health. Rich in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that individuals who follow a predominantly plant-based diet have lower rates of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke. These diets are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, which are often linked to cardiovascular problems, and provide an abundance of nutrients that promote heart health.

The Mediterranean Diet: Rich in healthy fats, fibre, and antioxidants, this diet lowers the risk of heart disease by improving cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, and fighting inflammation. The Mediterranean diet, characterised by its high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, along with moderate fish and poultry intake, has been extensively studied for its cardiovascular benefits. This diet pattern is associated with a reduced risk of developing heart disease, largely due to its emphasis on healthy fats, fibre, and antioxidants

The DASH Diet: Short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, this diet is designed to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, featuring fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and very limited salt and sugar intake.

All these diets share a focus on whole foods and healthy fats, steering clear of processed items and red meats. By choosing a diet that incorporates these elements, you'll be taking a big step towards a healthier heart.

The right diet is a powerful tool in maintaining cardiovascular health and preventing heart disease. By focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, and cutting down on processed foods and unhealthy fats, you can make a significant impact on your heart health. Start making informed dietary choices today to pave the way for a healthier life.

References / Further Reading

British Heart Foundation - "Eat your way to a healthy heart - Heart Matters"
Link: Eat your way to a healthy heart - Heart Matters - BHF

American Heart Association - "2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health"
Link: 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health

Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine - "The evolution of the heart-healthy diet for vascular health: A walk through time"
Link: The evolution of the heart-healthy diet for vascular health: A walk through time

MD Anderson Cancer Center - "Heart-healthy diet: What is it, what can you eat and what should you avoid"
Link: Heart-healthy diet: What is it, what can you eat and what should you avoid