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5 Changes You Can Make to Your Diet to Protect Your Heart Health

February is finally here! As Valentine’s Day approaches we are being bombarded with images of hearts, and yet we don’t seem to pay enough attention to the health of our own hearts. Cardiovascular disease is the 2nd biggest killer in the UK, with around 64,000 people losing their lives every year. Risk factors include diabetes, smoking, lack of physical activity, age, high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), genetics and diet.

With that in mind, here are some changes you can make to your diet to protect your heart health…

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Research has shown that eating foods such as oily fish, nuts and seeds is associated with a 10% lower risk of fatal heart attacks. Current guidelines advise 1 portion of oily fish per week; these include salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines. If you aren’t a particularly “fishy” person, try adding some walnuts, chia seeds or flax seeds into your daily diet!

Fruit and Veg

Eat the rainbow! Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A lot of people are aware of the 5-a-day initiative, but it might be news to you that every serving of fruit and veg that you have reduces your risk of death linked to cardiovascular disease by 5% - but only up to 5 portions, beyond this there is no further cardiovascular benefit.

Reduce Salt

The current government guidelines recommend no more than 6g of salt a day for adults (a level teaspoon), which is the equivalent of 2.5g of sodium. Eating too much salt can lead to hypertension – one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease. 75% of our intake is generally from foods which have salt added to them , e.g. cheese, sausages, ready meals etc. 10% of dietary is from salt we add ourselves; the final 15% comes from natural sources. When choosing foods, bear in mind the traffic light system! See below for the classification system.

Try choosing the lower salt options (in green), or cooking with items such as reduced salt soy sauce, citrus fruits, herbs, spices, black pepper and balsamic vinegar to add flavour.

Reduce saturated fat

Eating saturated fat has been shown to raise cholesterol levels – another risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. Practical methods to reduce your intake include removing fat from meat, avoiding processed meat, removing skin from poultry, avoiding deep frying, replacing butter and ghee with vegetable based oils, replacing full fat dairy with reduced fat, and replacing high fat snacks with fruit and nuts; aim for a maximum saturated fat intake of 1.5g per100g.

Stanols and sterols

Last but not least, consider adding a spread or drink into your diet that contains plant stanols or sterols. These items work by lowering your cholesterol, but they also work as a replacement for items you may consume which are high in saturated fats such as butter or a yoghurt drink. Keep an eye on how much of each product you need to consume to actually impact your cholesterol levels.

Putting that into practice, try some of the below:

Salmon with whole-wheat pasta, pesto, spinach and peas

This meal is packed with omega 3 from the salmon, complex carbohydrate from the pasta and lots of vitamins and minerals from the spinach and peas! Try squeezing a lemon over the salmon for extra flavour without adding salt.

Porridge made with semi-skimmed milk with berries and chia seeds

Using semi-skimmed milk will reduce your intake of saturated fat, while the addition of berries will count as one of your 5 a day and add some sweetness. Add some chia seeds for some texture and omega 3 fatty acids!

One more tip for luck… exercise your heart – it’s a muscle! Keep it strong with cardio activities such as running (come along to WFC Runners on a Thursday), aerobics (try a WFC session here), cycling or swimming.

Take a look at the British heart foundation website for further information on how to protect your heart health:

Have a happy, healthy February!

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