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A healthy heart is critical for people of all ages and should never be taken for granted. Yet, according to Statistics Canada, heart disease and stroke are two of the four leading causes of death in Canada . In fact, their research found that every 7 minutes in Canada, someone dies from heart disease or stroke.
What you eat has a profound effect on the health of your heart. In fact, dietary intervention is the number one factor in choosing a heart-healthy lifestyle. Several different nutrition strategies have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Increase vegetable intake to about 5–10 servings per day.
Vegetables protect the heart through their antioxidant and bioflavonoid content. Bioflavonoids are found in some fruits and vegetables. They have potent antioxidant power and are better dietary choices than red meat, bad fats, and sugar.
Focus on a high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.
Fibre intake has been correlated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease in several studies.
Fibre helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce blood sugar.
Women should aim for about 25 g of fibre per day, while men should obtain 38 g per day.
|Age (years)||Fibre per day (g)||Age (years)||Fibre per day (g)|
|Over 50||30||Over 50||21|
Source: Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fibre, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids (document on internet). 2005 (cited 2009 Jan 13)
Decrease meat consumption
Focus on consuming leaner meats such as poultry, fish, or eggs.
Try to keep the total amount of meat in your diet to 10–15% of your total calories.
Eat red meat only occasionally and buy grass-fed beef where possible.
Keep your portion size to fit in the palm of your hand.
If possible, buy organic.
Add beans and other plant-based protein sources to your meals.
Avoid processed meats such as hotdogs, sausage, and deli meats.
There are some specific foods that maximize heart health. Below are 10 of our favourites for heart health.
1. Green leafy vegetables
A source of vitamin K, B vitamins, and antioxidants to support heart health! Spinach, kale, arugula and collard greens are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and are also a great source of vitamin K. Vitamin K is beneficial for arterial health and supports proper blood clotting. Research has also found a link between increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables and a lower risk of heart disease. [3,4]
2. Whole grains
Oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, millet, teff, and other whole grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, including soluble and insoluble fibre, and provide protein, vitamins, and minerals. Compared to refined grains, whole grains are higher in fibre, which may help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease.[5,6]
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are packed with important nutrients that are important for heart health. Berries are rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that may contribute to the heart disease.
Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease (16 Trusted Source).
5. Cold-water fish and omega-3
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids support cardiovascular health.
6. Nuts and seeds
Walnuts are a great source of fibre and micronutrients and can help protect against heart disease.[8,9]
Almonds are nutrient-dense and a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fibre – two important nutrients that help protect against heart disease.
Flax, chia, and hemp seeds are great sources of nutrients like fibre and omega-3 that are good for your heart.
7. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids that can help support heart health. Choose a dark chocolate that has a cocoa content of at least 70% and consume in moderation such as two squares per day.
8. Extra virgin olive oil
Olive oil is high in antioxidants and rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. Many studies have supported its heart health benefits.
Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Eating tomatoes has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol.[13,14]
Each meal we eat provides us with the opportunity to nourish our bodies and support our cardiovascular system. Choosing to add in heart-healthy staples into your diet are simple ways to support a healthy heart.
For some quick tips on heart-healthy alternatives to many of the foods in your daily diet, check out our Easy Food Swaps guide.
Joyce Johnson ND (Inactive)
Dr. Joyce Johnson is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and natural health and lifestyle expert with 18 years of experience in the natural medicine field.
16.Ried K, Toben C, Fakler P. Effect of garlic on serum lipids: an updated meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2013; 71(5):282-99. 17. Rahman K, Lowe GM, Smit S, et al. Aged garlic extract inhibits human platelet aggregation by altering intracellular signaling and platelet shape change. J Nutr. 2016; 146(2):410S-5S. 18. Trumbo P, Schlicker S, Yates AA, Poos M; Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, The National Academies. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002 Nov;102(11):1621-30. doi: 10.1016/s0002-8223(02)90346-9. Erratum in: J Am Diet Assoc. 2003 May;103(5):563. PMID: 12449285.