Healthy Hearts, Healthy Diets

In nutrition there is no one-diet-fits-all...

That being said there is scientific evidence in support of certain dietary patterns that have been proven beneficial for heart health. Today I will be diving into some interesting research findings on the link between diet and heart health.

The DASH diet and Mediterranean diet

These diets have been established as effective for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. They encourage more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk products, beans, nuts and seeds while at the same time aim at limiting red meat, salt, and sugar.

The Debate on Macros

What has been up for debate is which macronutrient distribution is most beneficial for heart health: lower fat or lower carb? The AMDR for carbohydrates is 45 to 65% of energy intake. Research shows that high intakes of carbohydrates (above 60% of total energy) can increase plasma triglyceride levels and reduce HDL cholesterol – effects associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke. This does not mean that “carbs are bad”. Not all carbohydrates are created equal, and the increased risk appears to be associated with greater consumption of high glycemic index foods (such as white bread and bagels, baked starchy potatoes, sugary low-fibre cereals, and white rice) not just overall glycemic load. Moderate carbohydrate intake may help improve some parts of your blood lipid levels.

The American Heart Association

A heart-healthy diet should focus more on unsaturated fats like avocado, olive oil, safflower oil, seeds, nuts and nut butters.
— American Heart Association

The AHA has stated that diets higher in unsaturated fat (and low in saturated fat) may be a beneficial alternative to high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets for individuals with low HDL cholesterol and elevated triglycerides. Saturated fats from full-fat dairy, fatty cuts of beef and pork, and coconut and palm kernel oil should be restricted to less than 10% of your total calories, or less than 7% of your daily calories if you have elevated blood cholesterol. A heart-healthy diet should focus more on unsaturated fats like avocado, olive oil, safflower oil, seeds, nuts and nut butters. Diets heavily restricted in carbohydrate but high in protein and fat, like the ketogenic diet and paleo diet, have not been proven safe in the long-term. The daily recommended intakes for fat is 20 to 35% of all the calories in your diet, and for protein 10 to 35%. Eating animal protein sources that give you more than this could be harmful to kidney and bone health and may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Carbohydrates

When choosing carbohydrates, focus on those with a low glycemic index like sweet potatoes, barley, bulgur, quinoa, and 100% stone ground whole wheat or mixed grain bread. Adding more fibre is also a great idea, especially soluble fibre to lower bad cholesterol, which is known to increase your risk of heart disease. To increase your intake of soluble fibre, try barley instead of rice, rolled oats instead of cereal, or lentils instead of beef. Of course, getting adequate fruits and vegetables in your diet – ideally 7-8 servings per day – is incredibly important as well.

Fish

When consumed at moderate levels, fish has been known to reduce the risk of stroke. The protective effect is likely due to an interplay of nutrients found in fish, including omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 supplements on their own have not been proven as effective as eating fish on a regular basis. Two servings a week of fatty fish – such as salmon, mackerel and tuna – is the current recommendation for heart health. Try to limit fried or heavily salted fish and aim to limit your daily salt intake. If you don't eat fish, other nutritious omega-3 rich foods include walnuts, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and omega-3 fortified eggs.

Medication

On top of lifestyle modifications, may be necessary to manage your condition. If you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, talk to your doctor for individualized advice.

The Bottom Line

It can be hard to make sense of all the information we get about heart health. It can also be hard to make sense of what is the best thing to do for your own heart health, whether or not you have heart disease. The best first step is to make sure you are including high-fibre grains and starches in your diet, and focusing on unsaturated fat sources, and of course adding in physical activity every day. Want to learn more about how you can improve your heart health with diet and lifestyle, and what makes the most sense for you personally? If so, contact us today to start on a new path to a healthy heart!

Erin Martin, Ryan Stallard

References

  1. Abbasi, F., MD, McLaughlin, T., MD, Lamendola, C., MSN, Kim, H. S., PhD, Tanaka, A., MD, Wang, T., PhD, . . . Reaven, G. M., MD. (2000). High Carbohydrate Diets, Triglyceride- Rich Lipoproteins, and Coronary Heart Disease Risk. The American Journal of Cardiology, 85(1), 45-48. doi:10.1016/s0002-9149(99)00604-9
  2. Sherzai, A., Heim, L. T., Boothby, C., & Sherzai, D. (2012). Stroke, food groups, and dietary patterns: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews, 70(8), 423-435. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00490.x
  3. Chowdhury, R., Stevens, S., Gorman, D., Pan, A., Warnakula, S., Chowdhury, S., . . . Franco, O. H. (2012). Association between fish consumption, long chain omega 3 fatty acids, and risk of cerebrovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 345. doi:10.1136/bmj.e6698
  4. Abbasi, F., MD, McLaughlin, T., MD, Lamendola, C., MSN, Kim, H. S., PhD, Tanaka, A., MD, Wang, T., PhD, . . . Reaven, G. M., MD. (2000). High Carbohydrate Diets, Triglyceride- Rich Lipoproteins, and Coronary Heart Disease Risk. The American Journal of Cardiology, 85(1), 45-48. doi:10.1016/s0002-9149(99)00604-9
Ryan Stallard