What does a “Heart Healthy Diet” Look Like?
Did you know that February is Heart Health Month? Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada, and the first leading cause of death worldwide. This has led many countries and organizations around the world to take a closer look at ways we can improve our heart health. While there are healthy lifestyle changes we can make to most parts of our life, we’re taking a closer look at food choices.
A nutritious balanced diet is, not surprisingly, among the most influential lifestyle choices we can make to help curb our risk and even improve or eliminate existing symptoms of heart disease. Specifically, a balanced diet can help combat coronary artery disease, one of the most common types of heart disease. While this is not necessarily new information, especially for those of us who already experience symptoms, putting information into action can be daunting.
To make things feel a little less daunting, we’ve compiled a recipe list using 5 key guidelines of a heart healthy diet.
Fruit and vegetables
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Manitoba, studies have shown that increasing the number of fruits and vegetables consumed contributes to lowered blood pressure. They recommend 4-5 servings of fruit, and 4-5 servings of vegetables a day – the fresher the better. While dried and canned fruits and vegetables have some of the same benefits, added salt and sugar can create problems.
Skip processed and refined grains like white bread, pasta and white rice. All of these food items are low in fibre, a key component to heart healthy eating. Instead go for whole grain breads, brown or wild rice, quinoa, steal cut oats, hulled barley and buckwheat. Whole grain options are not only higher in fibre, they also contain more protein and B vitamins. They can also help you stay full longer.
- Chicken, Mushroom and Wild Rice Casserole
- Chipotle Chicken Quinoa Burrito Bowl
- Pistachio Crusted Chicken with Warm Barley Salad
Diverse Protein Sources
Saturated fats in red meats, poultry skins and dairy can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood. However meat and dairy products are the primary source of protein for many Canadians. As the Heart and Stroke Foundation points out, protein helps to build and maintain bones, skin and muscles, making it an important part of a healthy diet. To strike a balance, diversify your protein sources by incorporating fish, beans, lentils, tofu and non-dairy or low-fat dairy options.
Avoid Highly Processed Foods
During the preservation of highly processed foods valuable vitamins, minerals and fibre are removed while sugars, salts and manufactured chemicals are added. Although fresh is generally best, minimally processed foods (bagged salad, frozen fruits & veggies, brown rices, dried herbs or flours) keep almost all of their essential nutrients. Reading labels and downloading an app like Sage to help you navigate the grocery isles can really help to make this adjustment easier.
What you drink counts too
When it comes to alcohol, stick to the recommended guidelines and remember, everything in moderation. But don’t forget about the other beverages you’re consuming. Pops and juices contain high levels of sugar and calories, while flavoured coffees are typically high in fat and sugar. This doesn’t mean you can only drink water. Unsweetened coffee with low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives, teas, fresh pressed juices, and kombucha are all excellent alternatives.
Whether you’re taking precautionary measures to ensure your heart’s health long into old age, or you’re trying to get your heart health back on track, making changes to your diet can always be a bit of a challenge. Focusing on the delicious meals that you’re introducing into your life, rather than the specific ingredients you’re taking out will go a long way to making that transition easier. In the end, it’s worth it to put your heart first!