Eating for heart health

Did you know that heart disease is the single biggest killer of men and women in Australia?

One key step to lowering your risk of developing heart disease is a healthy diet. Here, we share six ways to improve your diet to help you reduce your risk. You could also try our healthy heart food swap ideas!

1.  Focus on good fats 

I often find that people lump all types of fat in the ‘naughty’ category. But that’s incorrect. 
Generally:
  • Unhealthy fats = saturated fats.
  • Healthy fats = mono-unsaturated fats and poly-unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats
These fats are used by your body to make ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, which can block your arteries. This can lead to health problems such as angina (chest pain), heart attacks and stroke. That doesn’t mean saturated fats are totally off the menu but it’s better to limit your intake. 
Some examples:
  • Butter and ghee.
  • Fatty cuts of meat, sausages and deli meats (eg. salami).
  • Snack foods (eg. potato crisps).
  • Baked goods (eg. sweet biscuits, donuts, cake).
  • Full-fat dairy products.
  • Palm oil and coconut oil.
  • Mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats
These fats are important as part of a healthy, balanced diet. They can help lower your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Some examples:
  • Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil.
  • Polyunsaturated, and canola and olive oil-based margarines.
  • Peanuts, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and almonds.
  • Sunflower and sesame seeds.
  • Avocado.
  • Fish (oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel).

2.  Beware of hidden salt 

Most of us have far too much salt in our diet. High salt intake can increase blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. As a dietitian, many people tell me they don’t add salt in their cooking or at the table, therefore they have a low-salt or no-salt diet. But the reality is around 75 per cent of the salt we eat comes from processed foods.
A great way to cut down on salt is to opt for homemade food as you’ll know exactly what’s in it and can control the salt content. If you’re worried about your meals lacking flavour, check out our tips for creating delicious salt-free dishes.
man shopping

3.  Be label savvy 

Go for fresh foods over packaged foods whenever you can. And, if buying packaged foods, choose reduced-salt products if they’re available. Otherwise, have a look at the nutrition information panel and try sticking to these guidelines:
  • Low salt = a product with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.
  • High salt = a product with more than 500mg of sodium per 100g. 

4.  Look at your lifestyle 

Although a healthy, balanced diet and reducing your salt intake will help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, it’s not the only thing you should focus on. There are many ways to look after your health especially given that poor lifestyle habits can increase your risk of developing heart disease, and other health problems such as type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
The key is to reduce your risk as much as possible. The more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood is of developing heart disease. It’s true you can’t change some risk factors like your age and family history. But there are many factors that ARE under your control such as smoking, your cholesterol and blood pressure, your weight, how active you are, and your social and emotional wellbeing.
Focus on the things you CAN change. And if you need support, talk to your doctor to identify and plan simple actions to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
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