Heart disease continues to be one of the UK’s most prolific killers – claiming more than 160,000 lives per year, causing a quarter of all deaths in the UK. Around 7.6 million people in the UK live with a heart or circulatory disease – and heart disease still claims one life every three minutes.
Eating heart-healthy foods is one of the most easy and effective ways to support your cardiovascular system and reduce the risk of complications such as cardiac arrest, as well as preventing other linked diseases such as diabetes.
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease or not, eating healthily is one of the most important and impactful ways to protect your overall wellbeing and prevent the possibility of complications such as SCA.
Here we cover some of our favourite heart-healthy foods to include in your diet – with some insight into implementing a heart-healthy eating plan (and sticking to it!)
Whole foods are the key to a healthy heart
Whilst there are specific foods you can eat to support heart health (more on those below), as a rule of thumb eating a healthy balanced diet rich in essential nutrients is the best way to protect your overall wellbeing and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Diets are only temporary – but a lifestyle change you can keep up now and in the future is needed to protect your heart against complications such as cardiac arrest.
Whilst eating the right foods can help to keep your heart in optimal working order, it’s also important to cover foods to limit which could negatively impact upon your heart health. These include:
*Processed and refined foods high in sugars and unhealthy fats
*Excessive amounts of red meat and processed meats
*Sugary drinks such as sodas and processed fruit juices
*Processed dairy products such as cheese and sugar-laden yoghurts and drinks
*Processed foods that are high in sodium (salt)
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease or simply want to prevent the possibility of ill health, focusing on foods in their natural format and avoiding processed, refined foods laden with sugar, fat and additives is a great place to start as you begin to improve your diet and wellbeing.
Heart-healthy foods to include in your diet
Whilst general healthy eating is the key to overall wellbeing as well as heart health, there are some specific foods that have been shown in studies to actively protect and support the heart, through influencing blood pressure, triglyceride levels, inflammation and cholesterol – all key risk factors for the development of heart disease.
Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, cabbage and collard greens are all excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants linked with heart health. In particular they provide high amounts of vitamin K, which supports blood clotting, and dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve function of cells and decrease arterial stiffness. Various research efforts have linked consumption of leafy greens with lower risk of heart disease, including an analysis of eight independent studies which found that daily consumption of leafy greens reduced the risk of heart disease by up to 16%.
Whole grains: Unlike refined grains often found in processed baked goods, wholegrains include all three nutrient-rich parts of the grain – the germ, endosperm and bran. Wholegrains are packed with fibre and provide slow-release, sustainable energy. In studies, wholegrains were found to protect against the risk of developing heart disease – with three or more servings per day associated with a 22% lower risk of heart disease. Great sources of wholegrains include oats, rye, barley, whole wheat (found in wholewheat pasta and breads), brown rice and quinoa.
Healthy fats: Fats are often seen as a bad thing for weight management and heart health – but the body needs healthy fats in order to function properly. Good types of fat can be found in avocados, fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, olive oil, and nuts and seeds – all loaded with omega-3 fatty acids which have been studied extensively for their heart health benefits. According to independent research, omega-3 fatty acids protect against the risk of heart disease, cardiovascular disease and arrhythmias.
Berries: Bursting with goodness, berries such as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries contain a host of nutrients that play a central role in heart health. They are also a rich source of antioxidants, which reduce stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease. These powerful benefits have been backed by various studies. One study on strawberries found that eating berries at various quantities each day lowered insulin resistance and LDL (bad cholesterol), whilst another study on blueberries found improved cell function and better blood pressure control as well as reduced inflammation throughout the body.
Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds may be small, but they’re packed with nutrients that support heart health. As well as being rich in healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids, nuts and seeds are also excellent sources of heart-healthy nutrients including fibre and amino acids. Numerous studies have proven the efficacy of nuts and seeds when improving heart disease risk factors such as inflammation, triglycerides, blood pressure and cholesterol. Hemp seeds are high in arginine, which reduces certain inflammatory markers in the blood and chia seeds promoted higher levels of ‘good’ cholesterol, whilst flaxseed has been shown to manage blood pressure and cholesterol as well as lowering risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In addition to seeds, tree nuts in particular have shown promising results when it comes to supporting heart health and preventing heart disease. Nutrient-rich almonds contain a long list of vitamins and minerals that are crucial to heart health as well as monounsaturated fats and fibre, whilst walnuts contain fibre and micronutrients such as copper, manganese and magnesium – which in studies produced strong evidence for cardiovascular disease prevention. Snacking on nuts is a great way to keep hunger at bay during the day. Chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds can all easily be added to smoothies and sprinkled on salads for a quick and easy nutrient hit.
Through lifestyle changes such as implementing a healthier diet it is estimated that over 65% of heart disease can be prevented. But remember, even apparently healthy individuals can experience Sudden Cardiac Arrest. SCA can occur at any time to anyone – so close access to a defibrillator is crucial in order to save more lives.