It’s easy to take your health for granted but the statistics about cardiovascular disease are very sobering. It’s never too late to make changes to the way you live your life and addressing your diet is one of the best ways of ensuring the health of your heart.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels which is normally associated with a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries (atherosclerosis) and an increased risk of blood clots.
Heart and circulatory diseases are the leading cause of premature death causing more than a quarter (27 per cent) of all deaths in the UK; that’s nearly 170,000 deaths each year – an average of 460 people each day or one death every three minutes.
There are a number of risk factors for CVD that we have little control over such as age, family history and ethnicity but others including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and body weight we can reduce by addressing our diet and lifestyle.
The Mediterranean diet has been comprehensively researched and shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease. This diet is rich in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seed, wholegrains, fish and healthy fats such as olive oil. The Mediterranean diet also limits the amount of meat and dairy foods as well as convenience foods rich in bad fats, salt and sugar.
In a recent survey carried out by Healthspan, it was encouraging to see that over half of those asked are aware that eating healthy is vital to supporting heart health. The overall quality of your diet is also going to have the greatest impact on your heart health, but certain foods have been widely researched for their specific heart health benefits.
Extra virgin olive oil contains polyphenols which are powerful antioxidant compounds that fight inflammation and can also help to reduce blood pressure. This oil is also rich in monounsaturated fats which help to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and lower non-HDL (bad) cholesterol.
Legumes are rich in fibre which binds with cholesterol in the gut to prevent its absorption. A large review of the research showed that eating 100g of legumes daily could help to lower non-HDL (bad) cholesterol by an average 6.6mg/dl compared to those who did not eat them.
Oats contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan. Research has shown that 3g of beta-glucan per day may reduce total and non-HDL cholesterol levels by 5-10% (oats contain 3.6g beta glucan per 100g).
Soy protein found in foods such as soya milk, edamame and tofu has been shown to reduce levels of non-HDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. Research has shown that 25g of soya protein per day may help to reduce non-HDL (bad) cholesterol by up to 5%.
These foods are high in potassium which is essential for fluid balance in the body. Potassium helps your kidneys to get rid of sodium through your urine easing tension in your blood vessels. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that 11% of men and 23% of women don’t get enough potassium in their diet.
While diet should always come first, certain food supplements have a beneficial effect on the heart and circulation and many like the new Healthspan Love Your Heart are expertly formulated to support your heart health. Each daily dose provides Coenzyme Q10, Vegan Omega 3 and Cardio Complex. Healthspan Love Your Heart* 28-day supply £19.95 available from Boots select stores and from Healthspan.
Also, if your doctor has prescribed medications such as statin to lower your cholesterol, it will also lower your natural production of ubiquinol, and this may contribute to some statin side effects such as fatigue and muscle aches and pains. Some research suggests that taking ubiquinol (the active, body-ready form of coenzyme Q10) may help to reduce this effect so you can continue to take your statin medication. Do follow your own doctor’s advice, however. Healthspan Ubiquinol Max* which provides ubiquinol plus magnesium, fish oil and key vitamins needed for by the heart – 60 capsules £32.95.
Addressing your diet is key to maintaining good heart health. Adopting the Mediterranean way of eating will ensure you include many of the foods proven to help reduce the risk factors for heart disease and can also be used to help you maintain a healthy body weight.
Rob Hobson is Healthspan Head of Nutrition
Try making Rob Hobson’s delicious Butterbean Stew, it’s perfect for heart health, low in fat and packed with fibre.