February is heart healthy month and we want to take this opportunity to raise awareness. Heart Disease is the second leading cause of death in Canadians and 1 in 12 Canadians are diagnosed with Heart Disease. The good news is that 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented by changing things that are in your control. Reduce your risk of heart disease by being physically active, limit alcohol use, avoid cigarette use and eat a heart healthy diet (1).
A heart healthy diet is low in processed foods, low in sodium, rich in fruits and vegetables and rich in unsaturated fatty acids that can improve blood cholesterol levels.
SALT: Some people are more sensitive to salt than others- these individuals are at higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) when consuming too much salt. The majority of the salt we consume comes from ultra processed foods (canned soup, fast food, packaged sauces, processed cheese, processed meats). Reduce your intake of salt by limiting ultra processed foods and increase intake of unprocessed foods (fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low processed meats and dairy such as fish, chicken breast or yogurt)
FATS: This could be a post all in its own but for now we will do our best to summarize. Eating too much of the wrong fat can lead to high levels of LDL cholesterol (lousy cholesterol) and reduce the levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) in your blood. Too much LDL and not enough HDL can increase your risk for hypertension, plaque buildup in arteries, heart attack and stroke.
Monounsaturated fatty acids can improve blood cholesterol levels, examples of these include: olive oil, canola oil, avocado, almonds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios). Polyunsaturated fatty acids can reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in: flaxseeds, herring, mackerel, salmon, walnuts, pinenuts. Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that can prevent blood clotting and reduce risk of stroke. The best sources of omega 3 come from fish (salmon, herring,sardines, trout,tuna), by eating fish at least once a week can reduce your risk of heart disease. Omega 6 fatty acids are another type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that can help lower levels of LDL cholesterol however if taken in large amounts can actually decrease levels of HDL (good cholesterol). Omega 6 fatty acids can be found in: safflower oil, sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, pecans, brazil nuts.
If Heart disease runs in your family or if you have some risk factors (cigarette smoker, high stress lifestyle, diet rich in processed foods) talk to your doctor about getting your blood checked for risk factors. If you want to learn more about how to reduce your risk of heart disease or manage your heart disease book an appointment with your local dietitian!
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Heart Disease in Canada. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/documents/services/publications/diseases-conditions/heart-disease-maladies-coeur-eng.pdf.
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