Heart healthy foods
Poor diet is a risk factor for some types of heart disease. Find out about the best heart healthy foods to help you prevent heart disease, here!
This page starts with some basic info about the main types of heart disease and what causes heart disease. With that basic understanding, you can then check out my tips on creating a heart smart diet and learn about the ways to prevent heart disease using the best heart healthy foods.
Cardiovascular disease vs heart disease
Before we start, you might be asking ‘What is cardiovascular disease? Is that the same as heart disease?’ Just to clear things up, heart disease is actually just one type of cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease is a general term that describes all conditions affecting the heart and all blood vessels in the body including heart diseases, strokes, peripheral arterial disease and deep vein thrombosis. These diseases are the largest killers in the world. Key risk factors for cardiovascular diseases include an unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise. Now onto heart disease!
Different types of heart disease
Valvular heart diseases involve either the heart valve openings becoming too narrow so that blood has trouble getting through, or valves becoming ‘leaky’ and not closing properly. Causes of valvular heart diseases include rheumatic fever, congenital heart disease (a condition you’re born with), enlarged heart, and age-related hardening.
Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy) is a weakening of the heart muscle -either a weakening of one heart chamber or a thickening of the overall heart muscle. These diseases can be caused by other heart disorders like coronary artery disease or valvular heart disease, or can be caused by viral infections, diabetes, kidney failure or one of several inflammatory diseases.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is also known as ischaemic heart disease or coronary heart disease. It’s caused by a build up of plaques on the walls of the coronary arteries - the vessels which supply blood, oxygen and nutrients to the heart. Plaques can gradually block the flow of blood to the heart and may cause a sudden rupture. Symptoms of CAD include angina, which may cause a pressure-like pain to the chest, shoulders, neck or arms. CAD can cause the rupturing of plaques which lead to a heart attack (‘myocardial infarction’). The causes of coronary heart disease include poor diet and lack of exercises.
Heart rhythm problems An irregular, abnormally fast or abnormally slow heart beat can indicate disease within the heart or abnormal electrical impulses. They can have multiple causes.
It’s clear that there are different types of heart disease and that they have different causes. Some of types of heart diseases can be present at birth, or related to gradual changes with increasing age, or viruses. These things are hard to avoid!
But the causes of coronary heart disease and heart muscle diseases can be lifestyle habits – poor diet and lack of exercise.
The great news is – you have the power to change these things and make positive change in your life.
You can prevent heart disease by enjoying a heart smart diet and avoiding unhealthy foods. See more on this below, followed by a list of heart healthy foods.
A heart smart diet contains the right amounts of….
All of these are important for reducing plaques and keeping your heart healthy. The easiest way to get fibre, vitamins and minerals in one package is to eat fruit and vegetables - the best heart healthy foods.
In limited amounts and as part of a balanced diet, whole grains can be heart healthy foods. Too much grain or too much processed grain, can add a lot of calories to your diet and can increase insulin resistance, which can lead to pre diabetes and diabetes.
high sodium diet can contribute to high blood pressure which is a risk factor for heart disease. Most adults should eat less than 2500mg of salt per day. Adults with an existing heart disease or at risk should eat less than 1200mg of salt per day.
Use herbs and spices to replace salt. Celery and celery seed are great substitutes for salt as they are very flavoursome. They are great for flavouring soups and gravies. 2. Unhealthy fats, especially trans fats.
For a typical 2000 calorie diet, you should eat less than 7% or less than 16g of saturated fat, less than 0.1g of trans fat per day.
The highest levels of saturated fats are found in processed foods, junk foods, some solid fats and oils, cuts of meat and dairy products from unhealthy animals. They are also found in plant foods like nuts, seeds and vegetables. It’s important to understand how much fat is in the foods you eat, so that your total dietary intake remains within healthy limits.
Hydrogenated fats are not heart healthy foods. They are plant oils and fats that have been heated and pressure processed to make them semi solid at room temperature. They are often found in margerines and vegetable shortenings, which are used in based goods like pies, biscuits/cookies and pastries.
The hydrogenation process creates trans fats. Trans fats are chemically altered fats that are very harmful to our bodies. ‘Trans’ refers to the shape of the molecule – it’s a straight line. Our bodies only recognize ‘cis’ or boomerang shaped fat molecules, so they have a hard time dealing with these foreign-shaped trans fats.
Trans fats raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol. These changes in cholesterol increase your risk of atherosclerosis and many chronic diseases. The more hydrogenated the fat, the higher the level of trans fats in the product.
Want info on the best fats and oils to use and how to store them? See my
healthy food tips.
Most people should eat less than 300mg/day of cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol or are on cholesterol-lowering medication, your cholesterol intake should be less than 200mg/day.
Half of the cholesterol in your body comes from your diet and the other half is manufactured by your liver. Your liver uses saturated fat to make cholesterol, which is why saturated fat should be minimized in your diet.
4. Processed grains and free sugars
Processed grains have most of the fibre and beneficial vitamins and minerals removed, so your body treats them just like sugar. Too many processed grain foods and sugars in your diet can increase your risk of pre diabetes, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. That’s because these foods affect insulin control and cause elevated blood sugar.
Learning to read food labels will help you identify and avoid the hidden salt, fats and sugars in foods, and to choose more of the good stuff - heart healthy foods.
DisclaimerYour specific condition or needs might be different than what I’ve written here, so please be sure to check with your doctor to see if my suggestions are appropriate for you.