Did you know that heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada after cancer? More than 1.6 million Canadians report suffering from some form of heart disease[i]. And although there are certain factors that cannot be controlled, there are preventive measures you can take to reduce the risk of heart disease. One of them is to simply eat heart healthy foods.
The risk of heart disease increases for those who do not consume enough fruits and vegetables, those who consume too much unhealthy fat and not enough healthy fat, and those who consume too much salt.
Here is what you should eat and avoid to stay heart healthy!
Heart Healthy Foods to Eat:
1. Whole Grains
The general rule of thumb is to eat whole foods and not processed foods. Processed foods are often stripped of their nutrients while whole grains are rich in nutrients and fibre that play a special role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. Some really great options are whole-wheat breads, high-fibre cereal, and steel-cut oats for your daily routine. Also try exploring new grains you might have not tried like farro, wheat berries, quinoa, etc.
Your mom was right when she told you to finish all your vegetables. Vegetables are often rich in vitamins, fibre, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants that all help support heart health. It’s hard to go wrong with vegetables, but if you’re unsure which ones to focus on, some that are raved for their health benefits include kale, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, peas, and broccoli, just to name a few! So the next time you’re at the grocery store, for the sake of your heart, spend more time at the produce section.
3. Spices and Herbs
Spices and herbs might not be the first to come to mind when it comes to heart healthy foods as we tend to think of them as mere flavour enhancers. But many of them actually work as natural medicines for the body. Turmeric, for example, is packed with curcumin, which has been shown to support heart health[ii]. And garlic and ginger, on the other hand, have blood-thinning agents that help prevent blood clots. While herbs like oregano, thyme, sage, basil, and rosemary all benefit heart function in their own way[iii].
This one is basically a given, but not all fish are created equal! Pick ones that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and halibut. Omega-3 fatty acids have unparalleled heart health benefits[iv]. These fatty acids help stabilise heart rhythms, and are key components for dealing with high blood pressure by reducing triglycerides, as well as regulating cholesterol levels by improving the ratio of good and bad cholesterols.
Foods to Avoid:
1. Unhealthy Fats
This one is a general one as opposed to a specific food item since bad fats can be anywhere. We need to start off by saying fats are an essential part of a healthy diet, but it’s important to differentiate between the good and the bad. Trans fat and saturated fat are the ones you’ll want to cut back on, as they are known to increase your bad cholesterol level and lower your good cholesterol level[v]. As every food item varies, trans fat and saturated fat are often found in fried foods, baked goods, snacks, etc. The key here is to read the food label!
2. Processed Foods
Processed foods usually contain a lot of salt and preservatives. The average person actaully consumes more than the amount of daily recommended limit for sodium. And a Harvard study showed that the intake of processed meat was associated with 42% higher risk of coronary heart disease[vi]. All the food additives used in Canada are thought to be safe, but reducing the salt and additives can only be good for you. Check the full list of preservatives used in Canada for any that might appear in your food.
3. Soft Drinks
Our seemingly endless love affair with soft drinks is one of the big culprits of increased heart disease risk. And you probably already know why—it’s the amount of added sugar. A single twelve-ounce can of pop contains about ten teaspoons of table sugar. According to the American Heart Association, high intakes of added sugar have been proven to be linked to increased risks of high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, and various heart diseases[vii].
Are you doing everything you can to ensure the health of your heart? Share with us any tips you have!
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