Heart Healthy Diet

My own heart healthy diet began not so long ago after I began to experience tightness in the chest and a general feeling of malaise. I went for a check up with the doctor and was referred to a consultant for an angiogram. This examination enables the surgeon to examine the inner working of the heart and reveal any problems or narrowing of the arteries.

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Happily my results showed I have only a mild problem and the right diet would help to prevent further symptoms. Researching the best approach to my diet I was able to come up with a 6 point plan to achieve optimum health. 

1.   Portion sizes for a heart healthy diet

Avoid heaping your plate and helping yourself to seconds. When eating out, the portions served are usually too much for one person; when I go out for a meal with a friend we choose a dish we both like and share one serving between us.

After a short while we found that the amount we ate was just right for us. We also choose a salad to go with it rather than calorie high vegetable dishes such as potato mash or fries and rich sauces. If you have a dessert, look for fresh fruit options rather than rich creamy puddings or check out my no sugar diet.

Assess how much you need for a heart healthy diet by reference to serving portions which are specific amounts such as cups, ounces or grams. A fish or chicken serving is between 2-3 ounces.

  2.   Eat fruits and vegetables every day

Vitamins and minerals are abundant in fruits and vegetables as is dietary fiber. These substances are ideal for a heart healthy diet while also being low in calories. Eating more of these foods will satisfy your hunger without resorting to high fat foods such as hard cheeses, fatty meats and processed foods.

I keep my fridge stocked with plenty of salads and vegetables (keeping potatoes in the fridge excludes the greening effect of light and slows down sprouting). 

Tip: keep berries in the freezer which can be quickly thawed in a saucepan and served hot with low fat yoghurt (or if we are feeling naughty, a scoop of ice cream).

I have created several vegetable only recipes; stir fry’s, curries and casseroles.
Use fresh foods whenever possible, keeping them cool or frozen (peas and beans freeze well but avoid those with a high water content such as courgettes or strawberries). Avoid breaded and fried vegetables or canned fruits in sugar syrup.

I'm also partial to a glass of wine at mealtimes and you may be pleased to know that alcoholic drinks can be included in your diet.

3. Choose whole grains

Whole grains are good for us because they contain the beneficial wheatgerm which is removed for refined grains such as white flour and rice. Whole grains contain more fiber which helps maintain normal blood pressure and a healthy heart.

I love making my own bread and it is usually a whole grain brown or granary loaf – a great source of good carbohydrates and I only add a pinch of salt. Tip: slice the loaf when cold and then pop in the freezer. Freezing keeps the bread as fresh as the day it was made and it is easy to remove from the freezer when required.

Experiment with preparing unfamiliar grains; quinoa, flaxseed, barley as well as the more usual brown rice, brown pasta, oatmeal. Avoid or limit refined products; white flour, muffins, waffles, cakes, biscuits, doughnuts, pies, popcorn, crisps.

4. Avoid saturated and trans fats

When I had tests for my suspected heart problem my cholesterol level was shown to be on the high side so it made sense for me to try to reduce the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in my blood. It is possible for me to take statins to reduce cholesterol but I prefer to start by using natural means. High blood cholesterol can lead to narrowing of the arteries which could result in strokes or heart attack and as my father suffered strokes I could be at increased risk.

Products that are high in saturated and trans fats include: butter, cream, lard, fatty meats, burgers and processed food that contain “partially hydrogenated fat”.

I found limiting my use of butter especially hard as it has a great taste and is best for making pastry and crumbles as well being fantastic “neat” on baked potato or toast.

Having said that I have discovered some good healthy alternatives spreads made from olive or sunflower oil; I’m sure I will get used to them in time.

Since this article was written recent research calls into question the accepted view of unprocessed saturated fats in a healthy heart diet .

5. Choose protein with care

Meats high in fat are best avoided these include beef, lamb, pork. If you avoid eating the skin then poultry and game birds are fine while lean meats such as venison are preferable to more fatty meats.

Best of all are oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines which contain omega-3 oils which help to lower blood fats called triglycerides.

Avoid dairy products, the enemy of a heart healthy diet, unless made from skimmed/semi skimmed milk. Egg whites are rich in protein while other good protein sources include: walnuts, flaxseed, legumes such as beans, lentils, peas. Try to substitute plant protein for animal protein.

6. Reduce salt (sodium) in your diet

By lowering the amount of salt in your diet you reduce the risk of high blood pressure which can lead to cardiovascular disease. The recommended amount for healthy adults is 2.3mg per day while people over 50 or those with existing high blood pressure or heart disease should restrict it to 1.5mg per day:

Most of the salt we consume each day comes from processed foods and condiments. You’ll be surprised at just how many products we buy contain salt; bread, breakfast cereals, canned foods such as baked beans, ready made meals, soups, gravy granules, soy sauce, cakes, biscuits. Here is a check list to reduce your salt intake for a heart healthy diet:

>      Make your own meals from fresh ingredients so that you control the salt content

>     Prepare your own soups and stocks – Tip freeze left over stock for future use

>     Buy reduced salt products

>     Create  your own chutneys and dressings

>      Substitute salt with herbs and spices to flavour dishes

Armed with the above information you can now plan your daily meals for a heart healthy diet; choose vegetables, fruit, whole grains over meats and dairy products. Reduce your portion sizes and decline second helpings. Prepare you own meals rather than buying ready meals (see my Recipe Pages) which will reduce your salt and fat intake.

If you have any comments or questions on the above then please contact us.

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