We all know how important our heart is to life. It beats constantly from shortly after we are conceived until we die. It reacts to every aspect of our lives, from emotional to physical stress, in order to keep us moving, thinking, and simply living. Yet we take it for granted, often treating it very poorly. The rising rates of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure exemplify how poor our heart health strategy is. With February, Heart Month, just around the corner, now is the time to start cleaning up our cardiovascular systems!
Heart Disease is on the Rise. Healthy Heart Nutrition Key to Prevention!
It is estimated that every 7 minutes, someone in Canada dies of a heart-related health condition. Poor lifestyle and dietary choices are the major reasons why heart disease is one of the leading causes of death globally, especially in industrialized countries. We use and abuse our hearts with the poor choices we make, and eventually it catches up with us. With only a few simple dietary changes, we can stop the abuse and start protecting and supporting this vital organ that we cannot live without.
Three Dietary Keys to a Healthy Heart
- Antioxidants – Antioxidants are constantly in the media, and for good reason. These vitamins and minerals stop and reverse free-radical damage in our cells, which helps decrease our risk of developing many chronic diseases, including heart disease. Antioxidants can be found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. You can easily predict the antioxidant content of many fresh foods by simply looking at their colour. The deeper and bolder the colour of food indicates a greater concentration of antioxidants. Dark leafy green vegetables and deep red, blue and purple berries have the highest concentration of free-radical neutralizing antioxidants. You can bet that if you are eating adequate whole fruits and vegetables (7-10 servings per day) you are helping to keep your heart healthy.
- Fibre -Fibre is well-known for its cholesterol lowering effects, yet the majority of us do not consume nearly enough of it. The average Canadian consumes about 14g of fibre per day, which is less than 60% of our daily requirements (21-38g). Studies repeatedly show that increasing fibre, even marginally, can reduce cholesterol levels by as much as 10% in a short period of time. Fibre is one of the easiest nutritional components to increase in our diet. Switch fruit and vegetable juices in favour of fresh fruits and vegetables, and refined grains (white bread and white rice) in favour whole grains such as quinoa or brown rice. Also add in more nuts and seeds to the diet to greatly improve your fibre intake.
- Healthy Fats – Despite the bad reputation fats have for heart health, research consistently shows that healthy poly-unsaturated fats improve our heart health. Populations that consume larger quantities of cold-water fish and/or olive oil have 1/10th the incidence of heart disease compared to populations with low fat consumption. The reason is that these fats reduce inflammation, protect the blood vessels, and improve cholesterol levels by increasing healthy HDL cholesterol and reducing the unhealthy LDL cholesterol. Avocados, nuts and seeds are another great source of these heart-healthy fats.
The great thing about these three keys to heart health is that foods high in one component are often also high in one or both of the remaining components. Try increasing seeds such as flax or pumpkin seeds, and get not only the high dietary fibre, but also a significant amount of healthy fats and antioxidants. Simple dietary additions or changes can drastically improve your heart health.