The Diet for a Healthy Heart
Heart disease and stroke are the major causes of death for women in Canada. But you can promote a strong ticker by choosing foods that offer protection from cardiovascular issues and by avoiding ones that may damage your body. One key way to keep your heart in top shape is to eat many different types of whole plant-based foods, says registered dietitian Rosie Schwartz. “Plant foods are filled with a variety of phytonutrients that work in all different ways to protect your heart,” she explains.
Some of those are antioxidants. Research shows that when LDL cholesterol (the bad kind that sticks around) is oxidized, it’s more likely to be deposited in the arteries, which can affect blood flow to the heart. Plant foods with antioxidants help protect against oxidization, explains Schwartz. And there’s much more!
“Many antioxidant-rich foods are also rich in anti-inflammatory compounds,” she says. “Inflammation affects several aspects of heart health, but the major one is how it damages arteries.” She notes that inflammation can also cause plaque in arteries to rupture and release blood clots.
Other benefits to whole plant-based foods include fibre, which may reduce blood cholesterol. Some plant-based foods contain nutrients like potassium, which can make you less sensitive to sodium and affect blood pressure, while others contain magnesium, which helps regulate blood pressure.
What about fat? Registered dietitian Abby Langer recommends that people eat a range of fats so they gain the benefits of a variety of nutrients. Try to avoid saturated fat, particularly from processed foods – though saturated fats like butter are fine in small amounts for most healthy people.
And trans fats? It’s time to kick them to the curb! “We know that trans fatty acids, which are present in bakery products and crackers, aren’t healthy,” she explains. Both saturated and trans fats boost blood cholesterol levels, which increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. And we can’t forget about added sugar. “Sugar is thought to cause inflammation in the body, and this can affect your risk of diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease,” says Langer, “so it’s a good idea to limit sugar as well.”
If you’re ready to give your heart some love, here are eight easy tips for eating in a heart-healthy way.