Changing the way we eat can have a great impact on our health. Healthy eating can protect your heart by improving your cholesterol level, reducing blood pressure, controlling blood sugar level and maintaining an ideal body weight. Heathy eating also prevents the development of heart disease like atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke.
What is a Healthy Diet looks like?
There are 5 healthy eating patterns could help you to achieve a healthy heart.
1. Increase Consumption of Fruits, Vegetables and Wholegrains
Fruits and vegetables intake were associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality. This is because fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals like flavonoids, anthocyanidins, plant sterols, beta carotene and glucosinolates found in fruits and vegetables is the key in reducing risks of cardiovascular disease.
Different colours of fruits and vegetables provide different kind of phytochemicals. It is advisable to consume rainbow colours of fruits and vegetables in a daily basis. You will get lycopene from eating tomato, anthocyanidins from blueberry and glucosinolates from eating cruciferous vegetables.
Compare to refine grains, wholegrains are higher in fibre, which may reduce bad cholesterol and thus decrease risk for heart disease. Wholegrains are like brown rice, whole wheat, oatmeal, millet and quinoa. They are not only high in fibre but they provide other nutrients and at the same time they are low in glycemic index. A simple way to do this is by swapping your white bread and white rice to wholegrain version.
2. Consume Healthy Protein
We can get high quality protein in our diet from plant-based and animal protein. Nuts, seeds and legumes are good options of plant-based protein. Plant-based protein are shown to reduce the risk for heart disease and lower LDL cholesterol. However, plant-based protein is incomplete protein because they are lacking certain essential amino acids. Therefore, make sure you consume a variety of protein from plant-based sources.
Fish, seafood, egg and poultry are also protein rich food that can be enjoyed as part of the heart healthy eating patterns. Try to include two servings of fish per week and reduce red meat consumption to 1-3 times per week. Greek yogurt is also a great source of protein, but make sure you are choosing plain version because flavoured Greek yogurt contains high amount of sugar.
3. Milk, Cheese and Yogurt
People who consume at least two servings per day of milk, cheese and yogurt appear to have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and death compare to those who don’t consume. Fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese is a healthy option and make sure you choose unflavoured Greek yogurt because it contains lesser sugar compare to flavoured version.
4. Consume Healthy Fats
You should include good fats such as monounsaturated fat (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) in your diet. Monounsaturated fat also known as oleic acid which is omega 9 can be found in olive oil, avocado and peanuts. Polyunsaturated fats are omega 3 and omega 6 which you can found in salmon, nuts, seeds and vegetable oil such as sunflower oil, safflower oil and canola oil. Eating healthy fats will lower bad cholesterol level and reduce risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
On the other side, you should limit saturated fats and trans-fats intake. Saturated fats found naturally in food such as meat, dairy products, butter, cream and cheese. Trans-fat is man-made fats which you can found in many processing foods such as pizza, cakes, muffins, donuts, cookies and fast foods. Saturated fats and trans-fats increase the risk of stroke and heart disease.
There is an exception for saturated fats which is called medium chain triglyceride (MCT). Unlike other fats, MCT directly deliver to liver and used as a source of energy. Coconut oil is rich in MCT. Studies show that coconut oil increase HDL cholesterol and decrease waist circumference and body mass in patients with coronary artery disease.
5. Use Herbs and Spices
Eating too much salt can leads to high blood pressure which is a risk factor for heart disease. High sodium foods can be found in canned foods, frozen foods, sauces, fast foods and breakfast cereals. The Recommended Nutrient Intake (RNI) for Malaysia suggest a sodium requirement of 1500mg per day for adults.
The best way to reduce sodium intake in your diet is eating fresh and unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables. Using herb and spices can add zest and enhance the flavours of food cooked without the added salt. Great options of herbs and spices include turmeric, rosemary, bay leave, ginger, pepper, coriander, curry powder and chilli powder.
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