Eating for Heart Health
Your heart is the most functional organ in your body. Keeping your heart healthy should be a priority for all Canadians. Heart disease is the number one killer of Canadians but it can be prevented and/or effectively treated by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and eating well. What exactly is cholesterol? It is a sticky waxy-like substance that clings to the inside of your arteries. Cholesterol is found in animal products such as meat, egg yolks, dairy products, shrimp and lobster. These products are part of a healthy lifestyle when eaten in moderation. We also make cholesterol in our liver. We need cholesterol in our bodies for hormone production, cell metabolism and other vital processes, but too much is not a good thing. Picture bacon fat clogging your kitchen sink’s pipes. If the pipes clog up, no water can get through, and, in the case of the heart, no blood can get through.
How to help reduce your cholesterol levels
- Eat a diet including mostly the good fats which are known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; try to minimize eating saturated fats and trans fatty acids. Not all fats are created equal. There are good fats and there are bad fats. What are the good fats? We now know that including a small amount of good fats in the diet is a healthy habit. These good fats are called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Include a small amount, 30 to 45 mL (2 to 3 Tbsp), of unsaturated fat in your diet each day. This includes oil used in cooking, salad dressings, margarine and mayonnaise. Healthy oils are canola, olive and soybean. Use non-hydrogenated margarines that are low in saturated and trans fats. Read the label. Try avoiding the bad fats such as saturated fats and trans fats found mostly in butter, hard margarines, lard, shortenings, fried foods and processed foods.
- Prepare your foods with the least amount of fat possible. Use cooking methods which are low in fat such as grilling/barbecuing; indoor grills are great.
- Eat whole grain breads, cereals, pasta and rice; the bran and the germ part of the grain have heart healthy compounds.
- Add some soluble fibre to your diet; 10 to 15 grams per day is recommended. Foods such as barley, psyllium and ground flax seeds are all high in soluble fibre. Here are more examples:
- Barley, cooked, 125 mL (8.1 g)
- Prunes, 125 mL (3.9 g)
- Flaxseed ground, 60 mL (2.3 g)
- Apple, medium = 1.0 g
- Fruits, whole, medium, citrus = 1.1 to 1.9 g
- Pears, medium = 1.0 g ␣ Banana, medium = 2.7 g
- Squash, 125 mL (1.4 g)
- Corn, 125 mL (1.3 g)
- Broccoli, 125 mL (1.2 g)
- Bread, multigrain = 0.5 to 1.0 g
- Legumes,125 mL (0.5 to 1.4 g)
- Nuts (about 10) = 1.2 g
- Add any grain product containing psyllium fibre such as bran cereal. It contains 4 grams soluble fibre in 80 mL (1∕3 cup). Add it to your regular morning breakfast cereal, in yogurt, in low fat, low sugar pudding or simply as a dry snack
- A heart healthy mixture of 1∕3 ground flax + 1∕3 oat bran + 1∕3 psyllium (all available at bulk or health stores) can reduce cholesterol levels. Simply add 30 mL (2 Tbsp) per day to your cereal or in yogurt.
- Look for products on grocery shelves containing added fibre such as “inulin”. These products can help you add more fibre to your diet.
- Load up on all those colourful fruits and vegetables: include 2-3 fruit servings daily such as berries, apples, pears and citrus; include at least 4 servings of vegetables per day; 2 at lunch and 2 at supper. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants. Carotenoids are responsible for the red/orange coloring found in some fruits and vegetables such as tomato products, watermelon and pink grapefruit. V8TM and tomato juice are great added to any lunch. Flavonoids are another antioxidant. Flavonoid-containing foods help keep your blood thin and flowing. These include strong- flavoured foods such as garlic, onion, red wines (or red grape juice), green teas, broccoli and almonds. Also included as an antioxidant heart health food are those containing isoflavones. Isoflavones come from soy products. To help lower blood cholesterol, it is recommended to have 25 grams soy protein per day. This may include: roasted soy nuts = 125 mL (17 g) ; soy milk = 250 mL (7 g); soy burgers = 10 to 15 grams.
- Try to eat fatty fish 2 to 3 times per week; salmon and tuna at lunch time are great or as a simple supper meal that is ready, quick and easy.
- Enjoy nuts often but watch those calories. Nuts have natural plant compounds which are good for the heart; 60 mL (1⁄4 cup) per day is suggested such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans.
Try to achieve 150 minutes of activity per week (2 1⁄2 hours). Exercise can be fun and does not need to be structured, like going to the gym. Walking is great, easy and inexpensive. Get a well-fitting pair of shoes and a pedometer. Your goal is 10,000 steps per day. Get moving!
Added strain and tension to your daily life can further increase your heart disease risk. Try to stay well balanced. Seek some help if necessary.
You and your doctor may discuss the need for medication. This is usually an option if diet, exercise and lifestyle changes have not reduced your cholesterol significantly.