We hear it all the time, we need to eat well for our health but what does this mean? And what actually are the benefits to our heart health. In this article, we’ll look at what we should be eating to maximize the health of our cardiovascular system and the effects a good diet can have on the heart.
What do we need to eat for good heart health?
A healthy diet means we eat foods from all major groups. This includes whole grains, proteins, colorful vegetables and fruits, and healthy fats. For ultimate heart health, you should also choose nutrient-rich foods and avoid overconsuming foods that contain added sugar, salt, and trans fats. Alcohol intake should be limited and you should remain well-hydrated.
Why is it important to eat healthily for heart health?
There is a growing trend towards heart problems globally, particularly in the West. If we look at the United States, for example, the leading cause of death in adults is heart disease. What’s more, almost half of adults in the U.S. live with cardiovascular disease according to the AHA (American Heart Association). This problem is mirrored in the majority of Western, industrialized countries and is only set to get worse. There is a growing concern that if we don’t begin to tackle the problem of heart health then there will be many more incidences of heart failures, stroke and heart attack.
One way to tackle the problem is increasing awareness of healthful eating. It is reported that up to around 80% of stroke and heart disease can be prevented with changes to one’s lifestyle, including healthy eating and an increase in physical activity. It’s not just about losing weight, the foods that you eat can actually help to reduce cardiac problems including blood pressure.
How are trans fats linked to heart problems?
One huge area of concern when it comes to heart health are trans fats. Trans fats, also called trans-fatty acids, are a type of unsaturated fat. Trans fats come in artificial as well as natural forms.
Natural forms of trans fats are found in dairy and meat from ruminant animals like goats, sheep and cows. These occur naturally due to the bacteria in their stomachs digesting grass. Typically, natural trans fats make up between 3% and 9% of fat in lamb and beef cuts and between 2% and 6% of fat in dairy.
Artificial trans fats
These are also known as partially hydrogenated fats or industrial trans fats and they are harmful to health. These fats are found in items like margarine as vegetable oils are artificially altered so that they stay solid. This means they have a longer shelf life.
There have been clinical studies showing that people who consume trans fats in the place of carbs or other fats have an increase in LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) without seeing a rise in good HDL cholesterol. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils have a long shelf life and are cheap to manufacture but they’re also where the majority of trans fats come from in our diets.
What medicine says
Medics recognized the link between heart-related illnesses like CHD (coronary heart disease) and trans fats a while ago and encouraged people to improve their heart health by limiting the amount of certain types of fats in their diet. For example, by not consuming trans fats, you will reduce your level or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. This is the ‘bad’ cholesterol that causes a build-up in the arteries thus increasing a person’s risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
Lowing salt intake can also help to improve a person’s heart health. With a lower salt intake, people will have lower blood pressure. Ideally, people should consume less than 1500mg of salt each day. It’s important to check food (like fast foods and processed foods) as these tend to be higher in salt.
While the problem of heart health is often found in older people, whatever your age, it’s a good idea to get into good habits now in order to avoid cardiac problems in the future. By eating a varied diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, you’ll set yourself on the right path for your future heart health. Your heart will also thank you in the future if you limit your intake of refined sugar, salt and trans fats now.