What is a healthy diet for the heart?
Here are six tips on how to change your diet to benefit your heart health.
1. Eat a well-balanced diet
It’s important to eat a range of foods to make sure that you get all the nutrients your body needs. A healthy, balanced diet should include the following food groups:
- fruit and vegetables
- pulses, nuts, and seeds
- lean meat, poultry, white and oily fish
- low-fat dairy products or dairy alternatives
- vegetable-based spreads and oils - such as olive oil and rapeseed oil
- starchy carbohydrates such as bread, rice, cereals, pasta, and potatoes
Where possible, aim to choose wholegrain versions of starchy carbohydrates and food options that are low in saturated fat, salt, and sugar.
2. Eat a rainbow of fruit and vegetables
Try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Choosing a ‘rainbow’ of colours can help you towards your five-a-day and will also make sure you get a range of vitamins and minerals.
Fruit and vegetables can be fresh, frozen, or tinned - any of these options count towards your five-a-day. Below are some ways to introduce more into your diet.
- Adding a side salad to your meal.
- Try chopped carrots, peppers, celery, or fruits as a snack.
- Keep a stock of tinned or frozen vegetables so that you can easily use them.
- Be adventurous and visit a store to try some exotic fruits and vegetables that you’ve never tried before!
3. Cut back on salt
Eating too much salt is linked to high blood pressure, putting you at higher risk of coronary heart disease. Adults are recommended to eat no more than six grams of salt a day.
One of the easiest ways to cut down on salt is to try to avoid adding extra salt to your food at the table and when cooking. Try using herbs and spices to flavour your food instead, and make sure to taste your food before adding any additional salt.
In addition to this, much of the salt we eat comes already added to the foods we buy. So, keep an eye on food labels when you’re shopping and choose options that are lower in salt. Foods that can be particularly high in salt include processed foods such as:
- ready meals
- stock cubes
- processed meats
- tinned and packet soup
- soy sauce
Savoury snacks, such as crisps and nuts are also high in salt.
4. Choose the right type of fats
Small amounts of fat are essential to your diet. However, to help keep your heart healthy, it’s important to choose the right type of fats in your diet and not eat excess amounts.
Saturated fats and trans fats are typically found in processed foods such as cakes and biscuits and take-away foods. Too much of these fats in your diet can increase the amount of harmful ‘LDL’ cholesterol in your blood. Try to cook meals fresh at home if you can.
Some meat can be high in saturated fat - aim to choose leaner cuts, and remove fat and skin from your meat. Limit processed meats including sausages and bacon. You can also choose sources of protein which are naturally lower in saturated fats such as eggs, beans, and pulses, and plant-based alternatives such as Quorn.
Unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, avocado, and nuts, are a healthier choice of fat. These increase the amount of good ‘HDL’ cholesterol in the blood and have often been found to help reduce the amount of harmful ‘LDL’ cholesterol.
Oily fish is also a rich source of a polyunsaturated fat called omega-3, which is thought to have benefits for your cardiovascular health. Examples of oily fish includes mackerel, sardines, trout, fresh tuna and salmon. You could look to incorporate these into your diet in fishcakes, fish pie, or grilled as part of a meal.
If you’re vegetarian, you can get omega-3 from sources such as green leafy vegetables, walnuts, linseeds, and rapeseed oil.
5. Pack your diet full of fibre
Eating a fibre-rich diet can also help to lower your cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.
High-fibre foods include wholegrains, pulses, and fruits and vegetables. More specifically, soluble fibre can perform a helpful role in reducing harmful ‘LDL’ cholesterol. Sources of soluble fibre include oats, beans, lentils and many fruits.
Fibre is also great for keeping you feeling fuller for longer which can help support those looking to achieve weight loss. Fibre can also be beneficial for your gut health and bowel habits.
Many people don’t get enough fibre in their diet. Small things you could do to increase your fibre intake are:
- add fruits and nuts to your breakfast cereal
- add linseeds to yoghurt
- add chunky peanut butter to apple slices
- leave skin on fruit and vegetables
- add extra pulses into curry or pasta sauces
6. Try healthy food swaps
Finally, don’t forget that small changes can make a big difference to your overall diet. Try swapping some less healthy food options for something more nutritious to give your meals a boost.
The following are some other heart healthy food swaps.
- When preparing meals, swap salt for herbs and spices.
- When cooking, swap butter for rapeseed or olive oil.
- Read food labels and choose those items with green-labelled fat, salt, and sugar values.
- Swap crisps and biscuits for fruit or a handful of unsalted nuts.
- Swap your milk, cheese, and yoghurt for reduced-fat or skimmed versions.
- Swap your carbohydrate sources for wholegrain alternatives.