In Australia, heart disease is the leading cause of death, killing more than 40,000 people each year. More than 1 in 6 adults live with the disease, which equates to more than 4 million Australians!
Heart disease is an umbrella term for a range of conditions that affect the heart, including blood vessel diseases (e.g. coronary artery disease); heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects (e.g. congenital heart defects people are born with).
Majority of conditions that fall under the Heart disease umbrella are also referred to as lifestyle diseases, meaning they are caused by poor lifestyles.
According to the World Health Organisation, 80% of lifestyle diseases can be prevented via healthy lifestyle changes and behaviours.
EATING YOURSELF TO HEALTH OR EATING YOURSELF TO DISEASE
What you put in your mouth will account for the primary cause or the primary prevention of heart disease.
And so, if you want to live well, and prevent heart disease or improve your already diseased heart, here's a few tips...
1. Eat a balanced diet, that contains a wide-variety of plant-foods
A balanced diet means you eat from each of the different food groups (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins and calcium foods) and meet your recommended serves. This in turn will help you achieve all of your nutrient requirements (i.e. nutritional adequacy).
Nutritional adequacy supports heart health in numerous ways, including the normal functioning of blood glucose levels, blood pressure, heart rhythm, vascular health and blood cholesterol levels.
When a balanced diet is not followed, and food group recommendations are not met (happens daily for most Australians), your body’s health will be compromised. On top of essential nutrients being missed, which compromises proper body functioning, discretionary foods (i.e. processed foods) displace the healthy whole foods and in turn deliver an excess of sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, sugars and preservatives. These unfavourable nutritional factors are not handled well by the body, and over time damage the cardiovascular system (i.e. heart health); as well as many other body systems.
The more variety of plant-based wholefoods you eat, the better chance you have for preventing and/or managing heart disease.
2. Eat healthy fats, not unhealthy fats
Whenever food is eaten, carbohydrates, proteins and/or fats are consumed. These are called macronutrients, meaning they are nutrients that provide calories (energy). In regard to fats, a healthy diet should contain between 20 to 35% of total calories coming from fats, with most of these coming from the poly-unsaturated (PUFA) and mono-unsaturated (MUFA) types. PUFA and MUFA are found in nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, flaxseed oil, extra virgin olive oil and oily fish (e.g. salmon and sardines). These types of fats support heart health and help to reduce the risk of heart disease development.
In contrast, saturated and trans fats, increase heart disease risk via a number of different mechanisms. For example, they increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which in turn influence atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition characterised by plaque build up in artery walls. Over time, plaque build up hardens and narrows arteries, resulting in a poor supply of oxygen rich blood to the heart and other parts of the body. Atherosclerosis is the main cause of heart disease, and can lead to heart attack, stroke and death. Saturated and trans fats are found in animal foods, including meats, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy. Fatty meats, processed meats, full fat dairy, deep fried foods and pastries are some of the worst options for heart health.
To manage and prevent heart disease, aim to keep your saturated fat intake to less than 10% (ideally less than 7%) of your total daily calorie intake.
To work out how to do this, click here.
3. Eat wholegrains, not refined grains
Wholegrains are grains of any cereal that contain the endosperm, germ and bran. These are original components of the grain that are rich in fibre and nutrients. When a wholegrain is refined, the outer layer (bran) and germ are removed. The germ is the reproductive part of the grain that can germinate to grow into another plant. Both the bran and germ are very nutritious. Wheat germ for example, is rich in vitamin E, folate (folic acid), phosphorus, thiamin, zinc, and magnesium, as well as essential fatty acids. Refined grains, such as white bread, white rice and most breakfast cereals, are much lower in fibre and nutrients. These grains have the bran and germ removed, which are really the most nutritious parts of the grain.
A moderate to high consumption of wholegrains has been associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes, with lower all-cause mortality. Furthermore, regular wholegrain consumption lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels, which contributes to an overall 26% reduction in coronary heart disease-risk factors. Wholegrain consumption is also inversely related to hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, when compared to refined grains. This means as more wholegrains are consumed in place of refined grains, total risk for heart disease decreases.
Wholegrains include: oats, quinoa, brown/wild rice, rye, barley, wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta, spelt, millet, triticale, sorghum, amaranth and buckwheat.
Regular consumption of wholegrains, including quinoa, oats, wholegrain bread and brown rice, reduces overall risk of heart heart disease.