Written by Vera Coetsee, Health and Nutrition Coach
26 January 2023
This February, for heart awareness month, we are shining light on the importance of cardiovascular health and how to ensure your diet is supporting a healthy heart. In 2021, heart disease was the third commonest cause of death, accounting for 13 per cent of all registered deaths in Hong Kong. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is also common in Hong Kong, with 27% of the population aged 15 and above diagnosed with this condition, and has become a rising health concern among women and men. Our diet and lifestyle has a major impact on our cardiovascular health, and can help keep your heart healthy.
Factors contributing to cardiovascular disease are genetics, age, lifestyle, diet, obesity and diabetes. There is strong evidence that consumption of hydrogenated and rancid fats is linked to heart disease. These fats are commonly found in ultra-processed foods such as margarine, vegetable shortening, packaged snacks, baked foods and fried foods. Lifestyle changes such as exercise, quitting smoking, relaxation and meditation for stress relief are also very important when it comes to heart health.
The key to eating for a healthy heart, is to base your diet around foods that are as close to nature as possible, and focussing on eating natural, alive and good quality foods. This means eating plenty of organic vegetables and fruits, some whole grains in place of refined grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other sources of healthy fats such as oily fish. The cardiometabolic diet which is adapted from the Mediterranean diet, is a great option for those looking to improve their heart health. This way of eating emphasises whole, unprocessed foods and focuses on plant-based foods and healthy fats. The cardiovascular diet is aimed to address the dietary needs of those at risk of cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, hyperlipidemia, hypertension), or those with metabolic syndrome. By following a heart-healthy way of eating, you will ensure that you get all the nutrients to support your health.
Foods that help support your heart health:
Fatty fish like wild caught salmon
Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and potassium. The omega-3 and -6 fatty acids combined with potassium are beneficial for heart health, since they reduce artery inflammation, lower cholesterol, and maintain blood pressure levels. As a great protein option, it can also help to improve brain health and protects us against inflammation. This shows that adding the right fats into your diet is important for heart health. When buying your salmon from the grocery store, make sure to look out for wild caught salmon which is superior in quality compared to farm raised salmon.
Green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
Research shows that eating one daily cup of nitrate-rich vegetables can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Nitrite reacts with stomach acids that convert it into nitric oxide in your body, which has remarkable benefits for your heart. Nitric oxide dilates your blood vessels and relaxes the arteries, facilitating the improved blood flow throughout your body that is essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure. Dark leafy greens are high in fibre, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and phytochemicals, all of which are great for your heart. Potassium can help lower blood pressure, fibre can help to control cholesterol, and folate can help prevent heart disease and stroke. The wide range of antioxidants in vegetables can also help to prevent free-radical damage, which is a major cause of atherosclerosis.
Antioxidant rich food like berries
Berries are excellent for heart health since they’re rich in antioxidants such as anthocyanins, which helps protect against oxidative stress and inflammation that may play a role in the development of heart disease. They are also packed with vitamins, fibre, phytonutrients, and have a low glycemic index. This means that they won’t raise your blood sugar levels, which can prevent various problems in the body. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries are the most recommended fruits good for your heart. Remember to focus on buying organic berries, since conventional berries tend to be sprayed with pesticides to ensure longer shelf life.
Fibre rich foods like wholegrains and vegetables
More research is coming out to support the benefits of fibre in our diet, and not just for heart health. But did you know that most individuals do not consume their daily recommended amount of fibre? Studies have found that people who eat more fibre have a lower body weight, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, which is beneficial for heart health. It also helps to keep your gut healthy by providing food for our friendly bacteria. Both soluble (absorbs water in the gut) and insoluble fibre (are not soluble in water) is good for our heart. Sources of soluble fibre include oats, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and some fruits and vegetables. Sources of insoluble fibre include wholegrains, vegetables and seeds and skin of fruits.
The importance of regular screening
In addition to eating a healthy diet and having an exercise routine, getting regular checkups is essential, especially if you are at risk for heart disease. Our doctor can check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and recommend lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular problems.