I’m sure we’ve all seen those social media posts about food; you’re either feeding disease or you’re fighting it. When it comes to the heart, nutrition is absolutely important. However, there is so much information around about what you should eat that it can get confusing. Some of that information also comes from not-so-reliable sources while in other circumstances, we are still collecting the science on food.
That said, there is some great information to support eating more of some foods for heart health and less of others. This isn’t about diets, fads or bikini bodies. Rather, these foods are what science has so far told us is likely to keep your ticker nice and healthy.
Some of the best evidence for heart-helping food supports eating a diet that is heavy on plants. When we observe people who eat a diet rich in plant-based foods, we see beneficial reductions in their cholesterol (including bad cholesterol), blood pressure and likelihood of them developing heart disease. Green leafy vegetables especially may be quite good at relaxing blood vessels, which is a vital way to prevent disease. Unfortunately, they need to be consumed regularly to keep up the great effects.
Healthy fats are talked about a lot lately. These are kind of ‘sub-types’ of fats that have beneficial effects on our hearts and blood vessels. They tend to do this by increasing levels of inflammation-fighting ‘good cholesterol’ and reducing the amount of disease causing ‘bad cholesterol’. These types of healthy fats can be found in fish, nuts and extra virgin olive oil. Although they have health benefits, we must be careful to not go overboard as there is some disagreement amongst scientists as to when too much healthy fat stops being great.
Other heart healthy foods include blueberries and strawberries which when eaten a few times a week, provide anti-oxidants that fight heart-disease causing processes in our body.
Other types of fat such as saturated fat, is causing some heated discussion in the medical and scientific communities at the moment. It’s unclear whether saturated fats are as a bad for us as we once thought, and it may be that in taking saturated fat out of our diets, we replaced it with things that were much worse for us like sugar and highly refined compounds. Coconut oil is one thing that I would avoid; it’s proclaimed health benefits may not stand up to rigorous testing. Plus, we know you get a much stronger benefit from other oil like olive oil.
Sugars is coming under fire as a strong suspect for causing all kinds of disease, including heart disease and its precursors like diabetes, insulin resistance, inflammation and making the blood sticky, ready to clog up your arteries. The other trick with sugar is that when we took all of the fat out of our foods, thinking it was bad, sugar often stepped in which suggests it is really quite bad for our health.
Working out what to eat is hard. Plus, we don’t tend to eat just healthy fats, one kind of fat or just one kind of vegetable. Plus food is enjoyable and social. It can make deciding what to eat quite tricky. Try to make most of your food intake about whole, unprocessed foods with lots of plant-based foods, leafy vegetables and supplement that with some healthy fats and berries. Give sugar, highly processed food and fad diets a miss for a healthy body and a healthy heart.
For further advice on what to fuel your body with, talk to an accredited dietitian.