It’s always been stated that you are what you eat and studies have shown that this statement is especially true when it comes to your heart. The studies have also indicated that regardless of your age, race or sex, you’re never too young (or old) to get the benefits attributed to a long, healthy life by consuming healthy heart foods.
With February being Heart Month, it’s a good time to think about making some dietary changes so that you can live a heathier lifestyle and contribute to your overall heart health.
Cardiovascular disease is referred to as the silent killer, and it’s one of the leading causes of death in Canada. According to the Heart Research Institute, heart disease:
- Someone dies from heart disease or stroke every 7 minutes in Canada.
- 29% of all deaths in Canada are from heart disease.
- Aboriginal people are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to develop heart disease, more than the general population.
- Heart disease has an enormous financial cost to the Canadian economy, costing more than $20.9 Billion every year.
While advances in medical research continue to create the potential to increase both life expectancy and life quality, a storm is headed our way unless the community at large plays a bigger role in dietary changes for heart health. If the signs are ignored, the increasing rates of obesity and diabetes are creating a virtual tsunami of cardiovascular disease in the years to come.
Dietary Changes to Improve your Heart
Making dietary changes does not have to be hard, costly or boring. A really good rule of thumb to go by is "the more colourful your selections of foods, the healthier your diet will be for the long haul".
Fats and Heart Health
One of the first ways to improve your heart health is to change the type of fats you eat. Dietary fats are an important source of energy and nutrients, but not all fats are the same. Some support heart health, while others can be harmful. Cutting out trans fats, that occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, but mostly baked goods, snacks, fried foods, and spreads is a good way to start. Trans fats not only raise LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, but they also lower HDL cholesterol, which can dramatically increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
The next thing to reduce or eliminate is saturated fats? Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and found predominantly in animal-derived foods. A diet high in saturated fats can increase levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, raising the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The best fats to consume are unsaturated fats. These fats tend to be liquid at room temperature, more flexible than saturated fats and vital for flexible, functional cell membranes. They can be found in in olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
Fish also provides an excellent source of unsaturated fats and is the richest dietary source of long-chain omega-3. Eating heart-healthy fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines and fish oils can decrease blood pressure and blood levels of triglycerides.
Fruits and Diet
Berries are not only colourful, they’re delicious and heart healthy. Raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries are great for their soluble fibre and phytonutrients while papaya and cantaloupes for their magnesium, fibre, potassium and powerful beta-carotene. Tomatoes (technically a fruit) contain antioxidants and also include lycopene, vitamin C, and both alpha- and beta-carotene.
Both Oatmeal and flaxseed are a good source of soluble and insoluble fibre and provides protein, vitamins, and minerals. Choose unsweetened oatmeal to avoid added sugar, and watch out for sodium! Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, phytoestrogens, and fibre which are good for heart health.
A handful of nuts are not only a great snack, but great for your heart too. Unsalted walnuts, almonds, and other nuts provide healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that support heart health.
Splurge to your heart's content with any number of vegetables that are low in calories, packed with nutrients and delicious. Here are the top ten vegetables that are heart healthy as an addition to your dietary changes.
- Bell Peppers
- Leafy Greens
Get Started with Heart Month
There is no better time to get started on a healthier you than the Heart Month of February. By being more aware of the foods you consume, you’ll improve your heart and overall health for many years to come.