Heart health refers to the overall well-being of your cardiovascular system, which includes your heart and blood vessels. Maintaining heart health is crucial for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure.
While there isn’t a single magic bullet food that guarantees perfect heart health, there are indeed foods that are considered heart-healthy when consumed as part of a balanced diet. These foods typically include:
- Fruits and vegetables: Rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants, fruits and vegetables help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Whole grains: Whole grains like oats, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat are high in fiber and nutrients, which can help lower cholesterol and improve heart health.
- Lean proteins: Lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, beans, legumes, and nuts provide essential nutrients without the saturated fats found in red meats.
- Healthy fats: Foods rich in unsaturated fats, such as avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds, can help lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol) and reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as in walnuts and flaxseeds, omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for heart health by reducing inflammation and lowering the risk of heart disease.
- Limiting sodium: High sodium intake can increase blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Therefore, it’s important to limit the consumption of high-sodium foods like processed meats, canned soups, and salty snacks.
- Limiting added sugars: Diets high in added sugars have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. It’s essential to minimize the consumption of sugary beverages, desserts, and processed foods.
In terms of saturated fats, while it’s essential to limit intake, not all sources of saturated fats are necessarily harmful.
Here’s a list of foods that are proven to be heart-healthy;
What is the importance of fruits and vegetables for heart health?
- Vitamin C and A from fruits and vegetables like oranges, strawberries, broccoli, spinach, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, sukuma wiki, and even avocados are important, as they help to prevent a build-up of plaques.
- Plaques are deposits of fat, especially inside the blood vessels, that prevent the normal flow of blood.
- When the flow of blood to the heart and even the brain is interfered with, then there’s a high risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Fruits and vegetables are also quite important in weight management, as they contain enough dietary fibre.
- The dietary fibre provides satiety, hence less snacking, and eventually weight management.
- Obesity and being overweight are top risk factors for heart disease. Too much fat gets stored around organs, even the heart, and some deposits inside blood vessels. Which is very risky.
- You can start to learn very easy ways to prevent obesity, as a way to prevent heart issues.
- A diet full of fruits and vegetables is therefore going to help well in weight management.
- To get most of the dietary fibre out of these fruits, eat them whole as opposed to refined fruit juices.
Whole grains are important for heart health as they help in;
- Weight management – Whole grains too contain substantial amounts of dietary fibre important in weight management. The dietary fibre gives you a feeling of fullness. Getting from obesity and being overweight to having a healthy weight will help keep your heart healthy.
- Controlling blood pressure – To keep your heart healthy, your blood pressure must also be controlled. The DASH diet for hypertension has shown a great positive impact in helping keep blood pressure under control. The DASH diet encourages more intake of whole grains and also more fruits and vegetables.
- Controlling diabetes – keep your blood glucose levels under control. When blood glucose levels remain uncontrolled, so many diabetes complications may come in, and an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke is also among these complications. Hyperglycemia destroys most blood vessels, affecting the normal flow of blood, affecting the heart as well. Whole grains are a good choice when you are looking to manage your sugars, they contain complex sugars which get absorbed slowly therefore reducing the risk of sudden spikes in blood glucose levels. When your blood glucose level is in check, the risk of heart disease reduces as well.
How do proteins affect your heart health?
- Proteins are a food group that is very important for building and repairing body tissues.
- Healthy sources of protein are highly recommended, from plant sources, nuts, and seeds, fish, and poultry.
- For heart health, red meat is cautioned as it may contain too much saturated fat that can be a risk to your heart.
- Processed meats are the worst choice because they contain too much sodium in addition to saturated fat.
- Both sodium and Saturated fat are to look out for because they affect your blood pressure and increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain types of cancers.
- Proteins from plant sources are the best choice as they also provide additional dietary fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
For heart health;
- Increase plant-sourced proteins: Plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds are rich in nutrients and fibre while typically lower in saturated fat and cholesterol compared to many animal-based protein sources.
- Remove chicken skin: Chicken skin is high in saturated fat, so removing it before eating can help reduce your intake of unhealthy fats.
- Eat fish: Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health. Aim to include fish in your diet regularly.
- Include nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are not only good sources of protein but also contain healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Incorporating a variety of nuts and seeds into your diet can provide numerous health benefits, including supporting heart health.
- Avoid processed meats: Processed meats like sausage, bacon, deli meats, and hot dogs are often high in saturated fats, sodium, and preservatives, making them detrimental to heart health. Opt for leaner protein sources like poultry, fish, legumes, and nuts instead.
- Engage in physical activity: Regular exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy weight, improving cardiovascular fitness, and reducing the risk of heart disease. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week.
Incorporating these dietary and lifestyle changes can significantly contribute to heart health and overall well-being.