Did you know that heart disease is the 2nd leading cause of death in Canada? It is estimated that 1 in 12 Canadian adults (over the age of 20) have heart disease.
Diet can play a big role in reducing the risk and preventing heart disease. It is estimated that 80% of premature heart and stroke can be prevented through lifestyle habits, including exercising and eating.
Whether you are living with heart disease or looking to reduce your risk, there are some healthy changes you can make to your diet.
5 Tips for a Heart-Healthy Diet
1. Include More Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a cornerstone of a heart-healthy diet. They are a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. The micronutrients found in fruits and vegetables play many important roles in the body, including supporting the immune system, cardiovascular system and aiding metabolism.
In addition to heart benefits, including more fruits and vegetables in your diet can help you reduce your intake of high-calorie meals and may assist in weight loss.
2. Swap to Whole Grains
Like fruits and vegetables whole grains also provide us with lots of micronutrients and fibre, and may help regulate blood pressure. We can increase the amount of whole grains in our diet by substituting whole grains in place of refined grains.
Some whole grains you can include in the diet to make it more heart-healthy include,
- Oatmeal (steel cut or regular)
- Whole-grain pasta, bread or rice
- Whole-wheat flour
3. Look for Low-Fat Protein Sources
Many animal proteins also contain fat, a nutrient we want to limit in a heart-healthy diet. When possible, choose low-fat sources of protein. Some healthy, low-fat options include,
- Lean meat
- Low-fat dairy products
Plant-based sources of protein contain lowers amounts of fat, no cholesterol and are a good source of fibre. Some popular plant-based proteins include,
4. Reduce Your Sodium Intake
The main source of sodium in our diets is table salt. But despite needing some sodium in our diet, many people consume far too much. Consuming too much sodium can lead to the development of high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
How Do I Reduce My Sodium Intake?
One easy way to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet is to cut back on the amount used in cooking meals. Adding a combination of herbs and spices in place of salt while cooking can give foods extra flavour.
Other ways to reduce sodium in your diet include limiting the use of canned soups and frozen foods and using “low-sodium” or “no-sodium added” alternatives when possible.You can also limit your intake of high-sodium foods such as,
- Table salt
- Tomato juice & other tomato based products
- Canned soups and foods
- Soy sauce
5. Prioritize Healthy Fats
People can easily get confused over the role of fat in a heart-healthy diet. People usually associated “fat” with the words “bad” and “unhealthy”. But this isn’t exactly the case.
Fat is one of the 3 macronutrients our bodies need to function. Our bodies use fat for,
- Protecting our organs and tissues
- Building cell structures and chemicals
- Promoting the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
- Keeping us warm
Saturated fat can increase bad (LDL) cholesterol, which can negatively impact heart health. Although we do not need to eliminate saturated fat from our diet completely, it is suggested that no more than 10% of your daily calories should come from saturated fats.
What Foods Contain Saturated Fats?
Saturated fats are naturally found in many foods. However, most of the saturated fat in our diet comes from animal-based foods. Common sources of saturated fats include,
- Cured meats
- Ice cream
- Palm oil
- Coconut milk and cream
Artificial trans fat can increase bad (LDL) cholesterol while also lowering good (HDL) cholesterol, as well as promoting inflammation. Artificial trans fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance and other chronic conditions.
Both Canada and the United States have banned the use of artificial trans fats in commercially prepared foods
What Foods Contain Trans Fat?
Both natural and artificial trans fats can be found in foods such as,
- Frozen pizzas
- Baked goods (including pie crusts, cakes and cookies)
- Stick margarine
You can also check out the nutrition facts labels of foods to find out if they contain trans fats. Trans fats can be listed on the nutrition facts label as “partially hydrogenated oils”.
To learn more about the different types of trans fat, check out the post, Everything You Need to Know About Fats.
Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are considered healthy fats. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can be protective against heart disease and can be used to replace saturated and trans fats in the diet. These fats can help,
- Lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Prevent atherosclerosis
- Lower triglyceride levels
It has also been suggested that these fats can help us feel more satisfied after meals, and contribute to weight loss.
Sources of Monounsaturated Fats
- Olive, canola, peanut, and sesame oils
- Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
- Peanut butter
Sources of Polyunsaturated Fats
- Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
- Fatty fish
- Soybean oil
Reducing Your Fat Intake
Although fat is an important macronutrient that our bodies need, many people consume much more fat than needed.
Some ways you can reduce the amount of fat in your diet include,
- Choosing low-fat, or reduced-fat alternatives
- Bake, grill, steam or boil foods instead of frying
- Choosing leaner cuts of meat
Other Ways to Protext Your Heart Health
Although this may not be part of our “diet”, no heart-healthy lifestyle is complete without exercise. Exercise goes hand-in-hand with a diet when we are trying to protect our hearts. It can help lower our blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and blood sugar regulation. Visit Harvard Health’s website to learn more about the role exercise plays in keeping our hearts healthy.
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Healthy diet. (2020, April 29). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet
Heart Disease in Canada. (n.d.). Government of Canada. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/heart-disease-canada.html
Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease. (2021, February 27). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-healthy-diet/art-20047702
How to eat less saturated fat. (n.d.). National Health Service. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/eat-less-saturated-fat/
Saturated Fat. (n.d.). American Heart Association. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats
The many ways exercise helps your heart. (2021, February 15). Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-many-ways-exercise-helps-your-heart
Trans Fats. (2017, March 23). American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat