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Nutrition to protect against heart disease Print

Healthy Eating for a Healthy Heart

Nutrition plays a major role in reducing many of the risk factors for heart disease. Making healthy eating choices is not only important to keep your blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure healthy it greatly influences your ability to manage a healthy weight and protect against diabetes.

*February 2017: the written content below has been updated to reflect new research relevant to this article.

nutrition to prevent heart disease

Top 10 nutrition strategies for reducing heart disease

Boost your intake of omega-3 fats. 

These fats improve heart health by making the blood less sticky, which reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. Omega-3 fats also lower blood pressure and cholesterol. The best sources of omega-3 fats are fatty fish and ground flax seeds, walnuts, and canola oil.

Choose healthy unsaturated fats. 

Unsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados and fish are healthy fats that are good for us. Be sure to include a moderate amount of these in your diet, as they lower your “bad” or LDL-cholesterol.

Increase fibre-rich foods. 

Fibre found in whole grain breads, bran cereals, beans/legumes, and fruits/veggies help to reduce cholesterol and keep you full longer. Soluble fibre which is especially high in bran cereals containing psyllium is particularly good for reducing cholesterol levels when you eat it regularly.

Slash trans fats. 

Trans fats (shortening, hydrogenated vegetable oils) are found in some margarines and some packaged foods such as cookies, cakes, frozen meals, deep fried foods, and fast foods. The food label can help you determine how much trans fats are in a particular food. Aim to reduce or even eliminate trans fats from your diet since they not only increase the “bad” LDL-cholesterol but they also reduce the “good” HDL-cholesterol in our body.

Be mindful of saturated fats.

Traditionally it was thought that saturated fat was harmful for heart health.  Saturated fats are found in heavily marbled meats, the skin on poultry, butter, margarine, tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter), and high fat-dairy foods such as cheese.  Newer research has found that saturated fats may or may not increase the ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol in the body, which harms heart health. Part of the reason that there may be some conflicting results depends on which foods are being replaced for saturated fat.  Monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats when replaced for saturated fat is beneficial for heart health.  Health depends on the quality of your whole diet, not just the type of fat or any other single nutrient.  Rather than focusing on counting grams of fat, focus first on eating wholesome foods your grandmother would recognize that contain simple ingredients.

Eat less simple sugars & refined grains. 

Sweets, pop, desserts and many refined foods such as white bread and low-fibre grains can increase your triglycerides (a negative type of fat in your blood similar to cholesterol) and contribute to extra calories and lead to weight gain. These foods can also contribute to higher blood sugars if you have diabetes.

Watch alcohol consumption. 

While moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial for your heart you should be aware that excessive alcohol can increase your triglyceride levels, contribute to high blood pressure and also increase your overall calorie level and lead to weight gain. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.

Reduce your calories (if you are overweight). 

Reducing your calorie intake can help you to lose weight if you are overweight. Research suggests that many people see a drop in their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugars by even losing a few pounds.

Shake some salt. 

I don’t think it is any surprise that Canadians eat much more salt than required for health. Most of our salt comes from ready-to-eat, processed/packed foods, eating out, canned foods, and condiments. Limiting dietary sodium intake to 1,500-2,300 mg per day is recommended if you have high blood pressure. Remove the salt shaker from your table and be sure to read labels and choose lower sodium foods.

Learn about the DASH diet. 

The DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet has been shown in research to lower blood pressure significantly in part due to the rich sources of potassium, magnesium, calcium, as well as protein and fibre. This eating plan emphasizes plenty of fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy foods, and reduced saturated fat. The DASH diet also includes whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts and is low in red meat, sweets, added sugars, and sweetened beverages typical in North American diets. Other wellness factors important for your health While you may not be able to change some risk factors for heart disease such as your genetics or family history, there are so many things you can do.

Outside of eating well to achieve a healthy weight and managing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, it is important to quit smoking, keep physically active and reduce stress. Sound overwhelming? Take one step at a time — every effort you make to live a healthier life is movement in the right direction.

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Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
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Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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