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Eating For Heart Health

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is a collective term for the conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. The most common one is atherosclerosis which is a hardening of the arteries. CVD is still one of New Zealand’s greatest health problems accounting for 30% of deaths annually and something that we can all help by watching what we eat.

Atherosclerosis is a narrowing of the arteries caused by a build-up of fatty materials (fats and cholesterol) in the blood vessel walls. This makes the blood vessels less elastic and reduces the blood flow to vital organs. If a blockage occurs, stopping the flow of oxygen containing blood to the organs, a heart attack or stroke can occur.

There are many factors associated with the development of CVD, some of which we can change through eating for heart health.

What you can change? What you can’t change?
Smoking Family history of CVD and ethnicity
High blood pressure Age
High cholesterol Gender
Overweight Body shape (e.g. “Apple” shape has a higher risk than “Pear” shape.)
Poor diet
Type 2 diabetes
Insufficient activity
Depression, social isolation and a lack of social interaction
Excessive alcohol intake

Those with more than one risk factor are at higher risk of developing CVD .

Your Diet Can Affect Your Health

Fats

Saturated and trans fats can increase blood cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega 3 and omega 6) fats help lower cholesterol levels. For heart health, reduce consuming too much saturated fat and substitute them with unsaturated fat in your diet.

Healthy heart tips:

  • Use margarines made from poly and monounsaturated oils instead of butter
  • Remove the fat and skin off chicken and meat, use trim cuts and avoid processed meats
  • Choose lower fat milk, yoghurt, and cheese
  • Keep pastries and biscuits for special occasions only
  • Include fish in your meals at least twice per week

Energy Balance

Eating more kilojoules (energy) than you burn through activity leads to weight gain. For heart health, keep your weight in the healthy weight range by choosing foods low in energy (kilojoules) and high in nutrients. Find out more about healthy weight ranges with BMI index.

Healthy heart tip:

  • Eat less foods high in fat and sugar and reduce the portion size of your meals – include regular activity, but consult your doctor before starting an exercise program

Salt

There is clear evidence linking high salt intake with increased blood pressure. High blood pressure places increased stress on the heart. For heart health, if you have high blood pressure, have your blood pressure monitored regularly and limit the amount of salt that you eat.

Healthy heart tips:

  • Don’t add salt to cooking and don’t put the salt shaker on the table
  • Improve the flavour of food by using lemon juice, fresh herbs or spices in place of salt
  • Choose unsalted nuts or unsalted popcorn

Fibre

Soluble fibre helps maintain healthy blood fat levels by helping reduce cholesterol absorption. For heart health, choose foods with soluble fibre, like wholegrain cereals, especially oats and barley, fruits and vegetables such as legumes.

Healthy heart tips:

  • Start the day with wholegrain cereal, oats or baked beans on wholegrain toast
  • Include legumes by adding hummus to sandwiches, or adding mixed beans to salads

Antioxidants

Foods high in antioxidants can reduce the risk of developing CVD. Antioxidants are known to help prevent the build-up of the fatty deposits in the arteries.

For heart health, enjoy a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables, nuts and anti – oxidant containing drinks like tea, coffee and cocoa.

Healthy heart tips:

  • Relax with a cup of green tea
  • Snack on fruit and at meal times and fill half your plate with vegetables or salad
  • Enjoy dark berries like blueberries and blackberries for a delicious dessert

This fact sheet contains general information. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific advice for your personal situation.

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References


Ministry of Health Mortality Data
Heart Foundation
Heart Disease and food. (last reviewed October 2010) www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/(Pages)/Heart_ disease_and_food
Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute Resources & Fact Sheets accessed March 2011 Includes Cardiovascular Disease, and many others www.bakeridi.edu.au/health_fact_sheets/
Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease (Heart Foundation August 2009) www.heartfoundation.org.au/Heart_Information/Risk_Factors/Pages/ default.aspx
Heart Foundation Health Publications www.heartfoundation.org.au/Heart_Information/Publications/Pages/ default.aspx

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