Love Your Heart: Tips for a Healthy Ticker
According to the British Heart Foundation, heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter (27%) of all deaths in the UK; that’s nearly 170,000 deaths per year, which averages out at 460 people day or one death every 3 minutes.
That’s an incredibly sombre statistic, but the good news is that we have a huge amount of control over our heart health.
Some risk factors for heart and circulatory diseases are unfortunately non-modifiable, which means that you can’t change them. These include age, gender (men are more likely to develop heart problems at an earlier age compared to women), a family history of cardiovascular disease and ethnicity (in the UK, those with a south Asian, African or Caribbean background are at higher risk as they tend to have other risk factors such as diabetes or type 2 diabetes).
However, we can make a number of positive lifestyle choices that are heart-protective, and specifically a number of positive nutritional choices. Let’s take a look at the best way to optimise your nutrition for a healthy heart:
Avoid Being Overweight or Obese
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension) and type 2 diabetes, which are both risk factors for heart problems. If you’re a healthy weight (BMI between 18.5 and 24.9) you should aim to maintain your weight via a calorie neutral diet; this means consuming the same amount of calories as you expend. If, however, you are overweight (BMI above 25) or obese (BMI above 30) you should aim to lose weight by eating in a calorie deficit.
Choose Your Fats Wiseley
Whilst the link between saturated fat and heart disease isn’t as clear cut as once thought, there are definitely some fats that are more beneficial towards heart health than others. Eating foods that are high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats such as oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, sardines) nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil (in small amounts) are known to be cardio-protective.
The biggest dietary impact on improving the blood lipid (fat) profile is to ensure a good intake of fish oils. High dose fish oils can reduce the levels of circulating triglycerides in the blood by around 30% (Harris, 1997), which is a significant improvement!
What About Carbs?
With saturated fat gaining a lot of bad press in the past (unfairly), the Western diet in particular saw an increase in the consumption of carbohydrates. However, research has shown that replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates consistently increases triglycerides (Parks, 2001) and as such is not a recommended approach to managing heart health. Carbohydrate consumption should be moderated in order to manipulate triglyceride levels.
The Mediterranean Diet
There is a huge amount of evidence to show that adhering to the Mediterranean diet reduces cardiovascular disease mortality risk, and it’s commonly recommended by medical and health professionals to those who have a higher risk of heart health issues.
The Mediterranean diet consists of plenty of fish, fruit, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, nuts, beans and low levels of meat. What this means is a high consumption of fibre, antioxidants, fish oils, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats alongside lower intakes of saturated fat, sugar and salt.
The Effect of Alcohol
The role of alcohol in health is an interesting one, and there’s a fine line between possible health benefits and negative benefits. Red wine in particular has been linked to good heart health due to powerful plant compounds including resveratrol and proanthocyanidins. Moderate alcohol intake (approx. 30g/day) has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol (known as ‘good’ cholesterol).
In summary, the key things to work on in order to manage your heart health are:
- Achieve a healthy BMI
- Improve your diet quality (e.g. eat less junk food, reduce processed foods, consume less sugar, eat more vegetables, consume oily fish)
- Drink alcohol in moderate amounts (if at all)
- Supplement where necessary (see below)
Alongside these nutritional changes, there are a number of other ways that you can reduce your risk of heart disease, namely; be physically active, don’t smoke, manage stress.
Finally, a note on supplementation. Whilst consuming oily fish is preferable, if that’s not something you do or will do due to your own food preferences, it may be beneficial to supplement with oily fish omega 3 on a daily basis. Using a high strength oily fish supplement with a good, evidence based ratio of EPA & DHA such as Incite Nutrition’s Omega 3 Fish Oil is something I recommend to many of my clients for a range of health benefits.
Written by @chris_the_nutritionist