Have you ever wondered if what you’re eating is impacting your risk of heart disease? Well, here is your answer – yes, it is. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Australia, taking the lead over even cancer.(1) If I told you I knew 5 simple steps to boost your heart health and reduce your risk of illness/disease, would you follow them? You would be crazy not to.
#1 Enjoy Variety
Pack your diet full of nutritious foods from each of the 5 food groups (2):
- Vegetables and legumes/beans.
- Dairy & alternatives.
- Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts & seeds.
- Grains: breads/cereals.
This is an easy way to make sure you are getting a range of important vitamins and minerals! A heart healthy diet is one that is packed with vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, healthy fats, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.(3)
#2 Make Friends with Fibre
Fibre does a fabulous job of regulating blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and boosting heart health! Fibre is found in our plant foods, mainly fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes. How do you make friends with fibre you ask? It’s simple!
- Swap from white to brown/wholegrain: breads, cereals, rice, pasta, flour, crackers.
- Keep the skins on your fruits and veggies!
- Try to reach your 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of veggies each day.
- Include oats in your diet if you can – porridge, muesli, granola, bars, cereal, smoothies.
- Have legumes handy: pop some beans or lentils into your curries, stir fries, soups, etc.
#3 Limit Unhealthy Fats
Limiting the amount of saturated and trans fat (unhealthy fats) in your diet is SO important for our heart! Instead, opt for sources of unsaturated fat (healthy fat). Some simple swaps you can make are:
- Butter/coconut oil avocado, olive oil or margarine.
- Full fat dairy low fat dairy.
- Coconut oil olive/canola oil.
- Fried grilled or baked.
- Cream-based meals tomato-based dishes.
- Cream/sour cream Greek yoghurt or low-fat ricotta.
- Processed sweets (biscuits, cakes) fresh fruit, nuts, yoghurt, muesli.
- Processed meats (sausages, bacon, salami) lean meats (lean ham, chicken breast, meat with the visible fat cut off, turkey, salmon, tuna).
#4 Decrease Sodium Intake
Reducing your sodium/salt intake is a very important part of building a heart-healthy diet. Here are the easiest ways you can reduce your sodium intake while still enjoying the flavour of food:
- Put away the salt shaker when at the dinner table.
- Cook more meals at home.
- Choose canned foods/processed goods that are labelled ‘reduced salt’.
- Choose fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Season your food with lemon, pepper, herbs and spices, rather than salt.
- Limit your intake of processed meats (salami, sausages, chorizo, etc.)
- Limit your use of sauces/dressings/marinades or opt for reduced salt varieties.
#5 Reduce Junk Food
The key word here is reduce! It’s important to still have balance in your diet and enjoy sweet treats or takeaway occasionally. These foods are often high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium, which we now know are all linked with an increased risk of heart disease. Here are my top tips for reducing junk food:
- Limit alcohol intake to a maximum of 2 standard drinks/day and be sure to include at least 2 alcohol free days/week.
- Swap cakes/biscuits for muesli bars, a handful of nuts or fresh/frozen fruits.
- Limit takeaway foods, such as pies, pizza, burgers, chips, to a maximum of once/week and try to add a side of salad or steamed vegetables.
- Choose water as your main drink – swap soft drink, cordial, energy drinks or juices for sparkling water, flavoured mineral water, 100% natural fruit juice, or zero sugar varieties.
Well, there you have it. 5 simple steps that are easy to remember and even easier to implement! Trust me when I say that your heart will thank you later.
Written by: Abbey Sissian.(Dietitian Student)
Reviewed: Emily Ross (Dietitian)
- Causes of Death, Australia, 2018 [Internet]. Abs.gov.au. 2019 [cited 7 September 2020]. Available from: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2018~Main%20Features~Australia’s%20leading%20causes%20of%20death,%202018~1
- Australian Guide to Healthy Eating [Internet]. Eat For Health. 2017 [cited 7 September 2020]. Available from: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-guide-healthy-eating