Heart Disease
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Food is directly associated with many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Paying attention to what you eat and avoiding certain foods is one of the most important preventive measures you can take to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. 

What is heart disease?

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for a wide range of conditions that affect the heart - this can range from infections of the heart to genetic defects to even blood-vessel diseases that affect the heart. Most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices. Even then, cardiovascular disease remains the number one cause of death worldwide. In 2015, alone, nearly 634,000 died of cardiovascular diseases.[1] 

Food is directly associated with many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Paying attention to what you eat and avoiding certain foods is one of the most important preventive measures you can take to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. 

According to the American Heart Association [2], a healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight cardiovascular disease, and following a diet for heart disease is actually not as hard as you may think! Let’s take a look at foods that are good for your heart and foods you should be avoiding. 

See: Sample Meal Plan for High Blood Pressure Heart Disease

What is healthy heart diet?

A healthy heart diet helps minimize your risk of having a heart disease. You need to know what to eat, what to avoid, and then changing your lifestyle and habits. That needs some willpower and positive thinking. Even though you might know that eating certain foods may improve your heart disease risk, it is often difficult to change your eating habits. Whether you have years of unhealthy eating under your belt or you only need to fine-tune your diet, here are eight heart-healthy tips. As soon as you know which foods to eat more of and which foods to limit, you will be on your way toward a heart-healthy diet.

The following factors are all responsible for a healthy heart diet:

1. Portion size control: How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Try not to overload your plate, taking second servings and eating until you feel stuffed can lead to consuming more calories than you really need. Use a small bowl or plate to help control your portions. Eat larger portions of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, like fruits and veggies, and smaller parts of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods. This strategy can help shape your diet in addition to your heart and waistline.

2. Plant-based diet: Fruits and vegetables are good sources of minerals and vitamins, low in calories and rich in the desirable dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits, as with other plants or plant-based foods, contain chemicals that can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating an increased amount of fruits and veggies may help you automatically cut back on higher-calorie foods like many snacks, as you will feel fuller.

Featuring fruits and vegetables in your daily diet can be easy. Keep a stash of bite-sized carrots, apples, or oranges for quick snacks. Keep fruit in a bowl on your dining table so you'll see it and consume it. Choose recipes that have fruits or veggies as the main ingredients, such as vegetable stir-fry or fresh fruit blended into salads.

3. No unhealthy fats

Limiting how much saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to decrease your blood cholesterol and decrease your risk of coronary artery disease. A high blood glucose level may result in a buildup of plaques in your arteries, known as atherosclerosis, which can raise your risk of heart attack and stroke.

4. Low-fat protein

Lean meat, fish and poultry, low-fat dairy products, and eggs are a few of the best sources of protein. But take care to choose lower fat choices, such as skim milk instead of whole milk and skinless chicken breasts as opposed to fried chicken patties. Fish is another great choice for high-fat meats. And certain kinds of fish are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower blood fats known as triglycerides. You'll discover the greatest quantities of omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Other sources are flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil.

5. Low Sodium: Eating a great deal of sodium can result in elevated blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. See American Heart Association's recommendation in foods to avoid below.

6. Whole foods and grains: Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. You may increase the amounts of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for processed grain products. Or be adventuresome and try a fresh whole grain, such as whole farro, quinoa or barley.


See: How To Lower Blood Pressure Naturally

Foods that are good for your Heart

Diet plays a significant role in heart health and has a massive impact on your risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, there are certain foods that have a direct influence on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and inflammation, all of which are known risk factors for heart disease.  Here are some foods that should be a part of any diet for heart disease.

1. Leafy Green Vegetables

Leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, and collard green are famous for the wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they contain. Green leafy vegetables, in particular, are an excellent source of vitamin K [3], which is essential for protecting your arteries and also for promoting proper blood clotting.[4] Green leafy vegetables are also rich in dietary nitrates, which are known to decrease blood pressure, reduce arterial stiffness, and also improves the functioning of the cells lining the blood vessels.[5]

2. Whole Grains

Whole grains should be an integral part of your heart-healthy diet. The common types of whole grains you can include in your diet for heart disease are whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, rye, buckwheat, and quinoa.  When you compare whole grains to refined grains, whole grains are higher in fiber content, which helps decrease the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body, thus also reducing the risk of heart disease. [6]

Multiple studies have established that including more whole grains in your diet for heart disease will benefit your heart. An analysis of 45 studies found that consuming three servings of whole grains every day lowers the risk of heart disease by 22 percent.[7]

3. Avocados

Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats, which are healthy for your heart. Monounsaturated fats are associated with bringing about a decrease in the levels of bad cholesterol and also lowers the risk of heart disease.

A research study carried out by the Pennsylvania State University examined the effects of three cholesterol diets in over 40 overweight and obese people, with one of the groups having one avocado per day. The group which had an avocado every day experienced a decrease in LDL cholesterol, including a reduction in even the levels of small, dense LDL cholesterol, which are believed to be primarily responsible for raising your risk of heart disease.[8]

Avocados are also rich in potassium, which is essential for maintaining heart health. Just one avocado is enough to meet 28 percent of the amount you need to consume in a day. [9]


See: Avocado on Whole Wheat Toast Bread

Foods to Avoid to Prevent Heart Disease

Just as the above foods are good for your heart, certain foods increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. As mentioned earlier, diet and cardiovascular disease go hand in hand. It is thereby essential to watch what you eat. 

Here are some foods/ingredients that you should avoid to lower your risk of heart disease.

1. Sodium

Eating too much sodium increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, which is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. For a healthy heart, it is important that you do not overeat salt. 

There is a strong link between sodium and heart disease that just cannot be ignored. According to the Heart Foundation [10], it is recommended that adults consume less than 5 grams of salt or 2000 mg of sodium each day. This is less than one teaspoon of salt per day.

 2. Bacon

You should avoid or restrict your intake of bacon if you are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. More than half of the calories in bacon are from saturated fat, which is known to increase the levels of LDL or bad cholesterol and also boosts your chance of getting a stroke or heart attack. Bacon is also full of salt, which raises your blood pressure, making your heart work harder than usual.

High amounts of sodium can cause a stroke, heart attack, heart disease, and even heart failure. Furthermore, the added preservatives in bacon are also linked with all these risks. 

3. White Rice, White Bread, and Pasta

Rice, pasta, bread, and any snacks that are made from white flour do not contain any healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These are all made from refined grains that cause belly fat. Studies have shown that belly fat is directly linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. [11] 

You should try to get at least half of your grains from healthy whole grains such as oats, whole wheat, and brown rice.

See: Brown Rice vs. White Rice for diabetes

Ketogenic Diet and Cardiovascular Disease

There is a lot of hype that claims that a ketogenic diet is right for your heart. A ketogenic diet restricts the intake of carbohydrates to 20 to 50 grams per day. However, results from recent studies show that a ketogenic diet only has short-term heart benefits. Results show that the impact of a ketogenic diet on cardiovascular risk factors is controversial and limited to the short-term at best. Moreover, the diet has also been deemed as not being totally safe for everyone and can also be associated with some adverse reactions.[12]

Based on these studies, done on animals and humans, ketogenic diets are associated with some minor improvements in cardiovascular risk factors such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, but these effects were only found to be limited in time. In fact, many people end up gaining back the weight they lost after stopping the diet. 

This is why it is better to first consult a dietitian or your doctor before you start the ketogenic diet for cardiovascular disease.

See: Keto diet benefits for weight loss, diabetes & PCOS

Summary

As new evidence comes forward, the association between diet and heart disease has been becoming stronger with each passing day. What you eat in meals can influence almost every aspect of your heart health - from your blood pressure level and inflammation to your triglycerides and cholesterol levels as well. Including foods that are good for your heart, and having a well-balanced diet will help keep your heart in good condition and also decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease.


See: Herbs to lower high blood pressure

References

1. (2019). Retrieved 4 September 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr66/nvsr66_06.pdf 

2. The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. (2019). Retrieved 4 September 2019, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/aha-diet-and-lifestyle-recommendations

3. Maresz, K. (2019). Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health. Retrieved 4 September 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566462/

4. Vermeer, C. V. (2012). Vitamin K: the effect on health beyond coagulation–an overview. Food & nutrition research, 56(1), 5329.

5. Kapil, V., Khambata, R. S., Robertson, A., Caulfield, M. J., & Ahluwalia, A. (2015). Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomized, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Hypertension, 65(2), 320-327.

6. Bazzano, L. A. (2008). Effects of soluble dietary fiber on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and coronary heart disease risk. Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 10(6), 473-477. 

7. Aune, D., Keum, N., Giovannucci, E., Fadnes, L. T., Boffetta, P., Greenwood, D. C., ... & Norat, T. (2016). Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. bmj, 353, i2716.

8. Wang, L., Bordi, P. L., Fleming, J. A., Hill, A. M., & Kris-Etherton, P. M. (2015). Effect of a moderate fat diet with and without avocados on lipoprotein particle number, size and subclasses in overweight and obese adults: a randomized, controlled trial. Journal of the American Heart Association, 4(1), e001355.

9. Avocados, raw, all commercial varieties Nutrition Facts & Calories. (2019). Retrieved 4 September 2019, from https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1843/2

10. Foundation, T. (2019). Salt. Retrieved 4 September 2019, from https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/food-and-nutrition/salt

11. Dwivedi, S., & Jhamb, R. (2010). Cutaneous markers of coronary artery disease. World journal of cardiology, 2(9), 262.

12. Kosinski, C., & Jornayvaz, F. (2017). Effects of ketogenic diets on cardiovascular risk factors: evidence from animal and human studies. Nutrients, 9(5), 517.


See: How long does it take to reduce cholesterol

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