Written By: Teah Randle (APD)
But first, what is heart disease?
Heart disease is a term that sums up a lot of different problems and conditions that can affect the heart, such as heart attack, coronary heart disease, heart failure and irregular heartbeats, etc. There are a lot of different factors that affect your risk of developing heart disease. Some of these are modifiable lifestyle factors such as smoking, being inactive, being overweight, having an unhealthy diet, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Whilst other factors are out of your control, such as genetics, family history, ethnic background, gender, and age.
And why is diet important in the management of heart disease?
Unhealthy diets are one of the biggest contributors to heart disease. Your diet can significantly increase your risk of developing heart disease. Your diet can impact your cholesterol level, blood pressure, diabetes risk or exacerbation and your weight. As you can see, diet has an impact on a lot of the modifiable risk factors for heart disease. If you are regularly eating foods high in saturated fat, salt, and low in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, and healthy fats, you are at increased risk of developing heart disease or speeding up its progression.
What are some foods for improving your diet to better support your heart health?
- Fruits and vegetables have fibre, folate, antioxidants, and vitamin K which all support heart health and lower your risk. Folate provides a protective mechanism for the inner walls of your bloodstream, whilst vitamin K helps keep your blood vessels cleaner for longer. Other antioxidants can help prevent and slow the development of heart disease.
- Wholegrains like grainy breads, wholemeal cereals, and other high fibre breads help lower bad cholesterol levels and clear away fats in the blood.
- Healthy proteins like beans, legumes, fish, nuts, and seeds. Also, having eggs and lean poultry. Prioritising these proteins will help support a healthier heart by reducing the amount of saturated fat and red meat you consume. This saturated fat will over time, create bad cholesterol and clog up your blood vessels.
- Herbs and spices to flavour food and reducing the amount of salt you add to your food will reduce the pressure on your heart. High salt intake contributes to a higher blood pressure which strains the heart over time, making it work harder.
- Healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, other plant oils, nuts and seeds will help improve the good cholesterol in your body. This cholesterol helps clear the fats out of your bloodstream, making it easier for your heart to pump blood in your body.
So, why would seeing a dietitian help?
As dietitians we are trained to provide evidence-based medical nutrition therapy and complex diet counselling. Diet is one of the leading causes of heart disease in Australia. We can help figure out which parts of your diet could be changed to better support your heart health and even slow the progression of your heart disease. We can help empower you to make healthier heart decisions in our everyday routine.
Take home messages:
- Make sure to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
- Adding healthy fats and minimising takeaway, fatty meats and salt.
- Seeing a dietitian can be super helpful in improving your heart health.
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- Mann J, Truswell AS. Essentials of human nutrition. 4th ed. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press; 2012. xx, 695 p. p.
- Sanches Machado d’Almeida K, Ronchi Spillere S, Zuchinali P, Correa Souza G. Mediterranean Diet and Other Dietary Patterns in Primary Prevention of Heart Failure and Changes in Cardiac Function Markers: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2018;10(1).
- Rees K, Takeda A, Martin N, Ellis L, Wijesekara D, Vepa A, et al. Mediterranean-style diet for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019;3(3):CD009825.