6 Routes to Heart Health
To improve your heart health and help reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD), there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make, such as the following:
- Stop smoking, if you smoke
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Keeping active
This fact file will mainly focus on the dietary aspects of heart health as a healthy diet can help reduce blood fat levels, particularly ‘bad’ cholesterol, known as LDL (fatty deposits in your arteries) and blood pressure, which are major risk factors for heart disease. ‘Good’ cholesterol is known as HDL and is heart protective, therefore it is beneficial to have more HDL and less LDL cholesterol.
For a heart friendly diet, try to:
1. Eat at least 5 portions of different fruit and vegetables a day
Apart from being rich in vitamins, these are an excellent source of antioxidants that can help reduce damage to your arteries. A fibre rich diet can also help reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. Choose fresh fruit as much as possible, fruit juices and most smoothies, no matter how much you drink will only be one portion. This is because the juicing removes most of the fibre from the fruit – is also releases its natural sugars giving you a sugar rush.
2. Eat plenty of fibre
Not only do fruit and vegetables contribute to fibre intake, but wholegrain varieties of starchy foods, such as, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, rye bread, quinoa, buckwheat and corn as well as nuts, seeds, pulses (lentils, beans and chickpeas) are rich sources. Soya and oats and are also fibre rich and also may have additional benefits to heart health because they are high in soluble fibre which can help carry cholesterol out of the body via the gut. Aim to increase your fibre intake gradually to reduce the possibility of feeling bloated.
3. Eat less sugar and salt
Too much salt (more than 6g a day) can increase your blood pressure. By eating less or avoiding highly processed foods, takeaways and savoury processed snacks this can help reduce the intake of hidden sources of salt. It is estimated that 75% of the salt in our diet is in the food we buy. Don’t rely on salt for taste; choose a variety of herbs and spices to flavour your foods.
Many highly processed foods and drinks can contain added sugar, eating these too often can contribute to weight gain, which can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and CHD. These foods and drinks, such as fizzy drinks, sweetened fruit juices and sugary snacks should be limited to an occasion.
4. Choose healthier fats
There are many types of fats that can affect your heart. Trans fats should be avoided and saturated fats kept low, healthier fats include moderate amounts of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) and monounsaturated fats (MUFA).
Trans fats – these are found mainly in highly processed, fast and takeaway foods and are associated with an increased risk of CHD. Know what you are eating by cooking from scratch to avoid these as much as possible.
Too much saturated fat in the diet can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood and should be limited. It is impossible to avoid saturated fats completely as these naturally occur in many foods, but by choosing lower fat varieties of dairy foods and avoiding fatty meats, (including the skin from poultry) this can really help, as most saturated fats are from animal sources.
Unsaturated fats are MUFA’s and PUFA’s which includes omega-3, aim to replace saturated fats with these as much as possible, as follows:
- MUFA’s are rich in olive oil, rapeseed oil as well as almonds, walnuts and avocados. MUFA’s tend to be rich in the Mediterranean diet, which is heart friendly.
- PUFA’s are rich in most nuts, namely walnuts. There are also high levels of PUFA’s in seeds, particularly sunflower. PUFA’s can also be found in sunflower, corn and soya oils.
- Omega-3 is a type of PUFA which appears to benefit the heart, aim for at least two portions of fish a week, preferably those that are from sustainable sources and of which at least one portion which is oily (high in omega-3). Oily fish include salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and fresh tuna (tinned is not oily). If you do not eat fish, green leafy vegetables and especially walnuts and flaxseed (including their oils) are alternative sources.
If you drink, keep within the recommended limits of 14 units per week for both men and women, spread over at least 3 days if the maximum is consumed with 2 consecutive alcohol free days. Drinking too much, especially on an empty stomach can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease.
6. Physical activity
In addition to a healthy diet, being active can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol levels and helping to manage body weight. The recommended minimum levels of physical activity is at least 150 minutes a week (2 ½ hours) of moderate intensity, for example brisk walking and cycling. Alternatively, you can complete half this amount as vigorous intensity exercise (1 ¼ hours) each week, for example, running or circuit training. On top of this, also include weight-bearing exercises twice a week, for example, carrying groceries or exercising with weights.
This factsheet is intended for adults as a general guide only and not a substitute for professional advice or a diagnosis. If you are on certain medication or suffer from a medical condition, seek individual advice from your health care professional. Date produced September 2015. Date edited April 2016.