This blog follows on from our last, which explored cholesterol and its link to our diet and overall heart health. If you haven’t already read this, I recommend you go back and give it a quick read before continuing on ☺
Besides high cholesterol levels there are a number of other risk factors for heart disease which are important to keep in mind.
- High blood pressure or hypertension
- Physical inactivity
- Diabetes (uncontrolled)
- Family history
For now, let’s focus on what a heart healthy diet actually looks like. And besides eating more unsaturated fats, what else can we be eating to reduce our risk of heart disease?
To recap: Unsaturated Fats
Poly- or monounsaturated fats help balance the cholesterol in your blood by decreasing LDL (bad) and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol.
Good sources of unsaturated fats include:
- Olive and vegetable oils
- Seeds e.g. chia, flaxseed, sunflower seeds
- Oily fish e.g. mackeral, salmon, tuna, trout, sardines
Try increasing your unsaturated fats by: having 2-3 serves of oily fish per week, nuts for a snack or using a nut/seed mix sprinkled over yoghurt or in smoothies etc. or using tahini in a salad dressing or as a spread.
Sources of soluble fibre attract water and turn into a gel during digestion. This helps keep us fuller for longer. It also attaches to cholesterol particles and takes them out of the body, helping to lower overall cholesterol levels.
Good sources of soluble fibre include:
- Wholemeal bread/rolls/wraps
- Beans or pulses e.g. baked beans, chick peas, lentils, kidney beans etc.
- Brown rice or pasta
- Fruits and vegetables
- Seeds e.g. flaxseeds or chia seeds
Oats in particular contain a type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan. This has been proven to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Try having untoasted muesli with yoghurt, cooked porridge for breakfast in the morning or adding oats to your smoothies or baking recipes.
Soy foods are naturally low in saturated fat and help reduce the amount of cholesterol our body absorbs.
Good sources of soy include:
- Soy milk
- Fresh or frozen edamame
- Soy yoghurt or custard
- Soy based vegetable sausages
- Soy based vegetable burgers
Try having at least 1-2 vegetarian meals per week as an easy way to add soy into your diet. This could be as simple as having a tofu stirfry or curry, vegetable burger with homemade chips and salad, poke bowl with edamame or vegetable sausages on the BBQ. Check out the vegetarian recipe tab on www.healthyfoodguide.com.au for more inspiration.
Minimise Salt Intake
A diet high in salt or sodium (which you will see it called on labels) is directly linked to high blood pressure. While having high blood pressure is directly linked to heart disease.
The majority of our salt intake comes from processed foods. For most people, the salt from processed foods will contribute a lot more to their overall intake than the amount that is added during cooking or at the table.
Next time you’re at the supermarket check the Nutrition Information Panel. When it comes to sodium try and buy products with less than 400mg sodium per 100g.
Be wary of these higher salt food products:
- Sauces (especially soy)
- Soups (including cup of soups or noodles)
- Canned or frozen meals
- Bread and wraps
- Salad dressings
- Canned vegetables (aim to choose reduced salt option)
Fortified Foods with Plant Sterols (recommended for people who already have high cholesterol)
Research shows that plant sterols help reduce the amount of cholesterol our body absorbs. A recent analysis of 40 clinical studies shows that we can expect our LDL cholesterol to reduce by up to 9% in 4 weeks if we eat 2 grams of plant sterols daily(1).
Good sources of plant sterols include:
- Fortified margarine spreads e.g. Flora ProActiv (2g plant sterols in 1 tbsp)
- Cholesterol lowering weetbix (2g plant sterols in 2 weetbix)
- Fortified dairy milk
- Fortified soy milk
I hope you now feel a little more confident in making food choices that will benefit your heart health well into the future!
Heart Healthy day on a plate
Rolled oats with chia seeds, almonds, reduced fat yoghurt and fresh fruit.
Poached eggs with avocado on multigrain bread.
Grilled salmon with vegetables, brown rice and an olive oil, tahini dressing.
Fruit or nuts or veggie sticks with hummus or wholegrain crackers (e.g. vita weat) with avocado.
- Ras RT, Geleijnse JM, Trautwein EA. LDL-cholesterol-lowering effect of plant sterols and stanols across different dose ranges: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled studies. Br J Nutr. 2014;112(2):214-9.