The heart is the mechanical hub of a body, pumping blood around our arteries in order for us, as humans, to survive and prosper. If the heart and its associated blood vessels are affected by factors outside the norm, then at some point the rest of the body will feel an impact.
According to the Heart Foundation, heart disease is a leading cause of death in Australia, sadly killing one Australian every 27 minutes.
Lifestyle choices play an important role on the health of our heart and many people live care-free without the awareness of their feeble heart health until degradation starts. Symptoms that we often encounter in our 40’s and 50’s commonly manifest as high blood pressure and elevated blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides).
Some risk factors that could lead to heart disease include being overweight or obese, being physically inactive, experiencing elevated blood sugar levels, regular alcohol consumption, smoking, and not consuming adequate amounts of healthy fruit and vegetables.
Worryingly, it is not uncommon these days to see overweight patients, as young as 12 years old, with elevated levels of blood fats.
More concerning, a whopping nine out 10 Australians carry at least one risk factor for heart disease. Our modern lifestyle and poor, convenience-based dietary habits are the major contributing factor to the rise in heart disease prevalence.
If consumed excessively, sodium and saturated fat are the main components of food that can have a negative effect on our heart.
Sodium raises blood pressure. In turn, high blood pressure damages the arteries that carry blood to the heart and can instigate a heart attack or stroke. Sodium is found in salt; sauces such as soy sauce, tomato sauce and teriyaki; pickles; cured and processed meats like salami, smoked salmon and sausages; canned foods, savoury snack foods, cheese, packaged soups and stock. Sodium may also be added to foods in different forms such as MSG (mono-sodium glutamate), as baking powder and bicarbonate soda.
The visible portions of fat in meat and chicken skin are loaded with saturated fat. It is also found in processed deli meats such as salami; in full fat dairy products, especially butter, cream and cheese; in biscuits, cakes, pastries, chocolate, palm oil, coconut oil and takeaway foods. Saturated fat raises blood levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, and lowers the level of good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Making constructive choices that will help optimise the health of our heart, is quite effortless.
Healthy fats such as omega-3 and mono unsaturated fats, contain anti-inflammatory properties valuable in reducing bad (LDL) cholesterol and raising good (HDL) cholesterol. Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and tuna. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 include walnuts, canola oil and flaxseed.
Mono-unsaturated fats are found in nuts, avocados and olives.
Fibre-rich foods are a body’s ally for flushing toxins and binding to fat, which reduces fat absorption and cholesterol levels. Whole-grains such as barley, oats, brown rice, wheat, quinoa, corn and rye are on the hit list of fibre-rich foods. Fibre is also abundant in beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables
It is individual drive and choices we make each day that influence a healthy, low risk lifestyle. Follow these eight easy tips to help reduce your risk of heart disease:
- Choose lean meats and poultry.
- Include fish in your meals at least twice a week. Use olive, canola and flaxseed oils. Include raw, unsalted nuts (such as walnuts) into your eating plan.
- Limit packaged snack foods.
- Try vegetarian meals for one day each week.
- Reduce the amount of total salt you consume.
- Increase your fibre intake – aim for two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables (fresh or frozen) per day. Also include beans, lentils and whole grains in your diet.
- Get moving! All forms of activity improve circulation, reduce bad cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. Aim for at least 30 minutes of planned physical activity, five days a week.
- Limit alcohol consumption to no more than two standard drinks per day for both men and women.
- Cut down or quit all forms of smoking. A single day without smoking is one step closer to a healthier heart!
The advice listed is intended as a general guide only. For personalised nutrition advice, see an accredited practising dietitian who will tailor a dietary plan to your specific needs.