Eat to Improve your Heart Health
Many people fear a heart attack. Think of it as the last straw. Heart disease is, in many cases, a lifestyle disease that is avoidable and, with the right focus, you can avoid it, too.
There are some pretty big risk factors (outside of smoking and drinking in excess), and these include being diabetic, having high cholesterol and being overweight. But did you know that being menopausal, having conditions such as PCOS, and being of black or Asian ethnicity can increase your chances too? And genetic predisposition can affect it too.
What I want to talk to you about today is which dietary changes you might start to make from today, to protect your health and that of your loved ones. There’s fantastic news in this regard because a number of huge studies point to diet and lifestyle change being IT when it comes to prevention.
The INTERHEART study, published in the Lancet in 2004, followed 30,000 people in 52 countries. Researchers found that lifestyle changes could prevent at least 90 percent of all heart disease.
This was another big one: the EPIC study in 2009 looked at how 23,000 people adhered to 4 simple behaviours: not smoking, exercising 3.5 hours a week, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. Sticking to these four behaviours alone seemed to prevent 93% of cases of diabetes, 81% of cases of heart attacks, 50% of cases of strokes, and 36% of cases of all cancers.
A SIMPLE STRATEGY FOR GOOD HEALTH
Of course, everyone is individual, and there is no official ‘single diet’ that all humans should eat. But if there were, this would be it because it handles what the essence of the problem is – overweight and a highly inflammatory internal environment.
Before I dive in with some of the answers, I want to say a little something about fat because chances are, if you’ve heard one thing about staving off a heart attack, it’s ‘cut back on fat’ (and especially the saturated kind).
The success of some low-fat dietary models in weight loss is thought to be more likely due to the simultaneous reduction of sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods.
Dietary fat actually turns off fat production in your liver. Unlike carbohydrates and protein, dietary fat does not trigger your pancreas to secrete insulin.
There is one type of fat everyone should avoid, and it’s trans fats, a kind of Frankenstein fat added to food to improve shelf life and mouth-feel of products. One study actually found that the risk of coronary heart disease doubled with each 2 percent increase in calories from trans fats (Iqbal, 2014). Another researcher even concluded: “On a per-calorie basis, trans fats appear to increase the risk of CHD more than any other micronutrient.” (Mozaffarian et al., 2006).
THE REAL VILLIANS…
The real villains in the piece are refined grains and sugar. During processing, refined grains are stripped of the bran and germ, two parts of the grain kernel that contain a wealth of nutrients. The final product is starch with next to no nutritional value, providing little more than carbohydrates and calories. Refined carbohydrates can be found in a wide variety of foods, including white bread, pasta and rice, muffins, cakes, cookies, crackers, and bagels. Unfortunately, these foods make up a pretty good chunk of the modern Western diet and may be linked to a higher risk of heart disease. One study from China found that a higher carbohydrate intake, mainly from refined grains, was associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease among 117,366 adults (Yu et al., 2013).
Sugar is one of the main culprits of heart disease. Added sugars from foods like sweets, desserts, juice and soft drinks can spike blood sugar levels, damaging the blood vessels, overloading the liver and increasing the risk of heart disease.
Interestingly, a study from Harvard School of Public Health actually found that participants who drank the highest amount of sugar-sweetened beverages had a 20 percent higher relative risk of developing coronary heart disease than those who drank the lowest amount (de Koning et al., 2012).
WHAT THIS MEANS IS …
A lower carbohydrate diet is recommended to balance blood sugar and therefore reduce insulin and blood glucose levels. Elevated insulin is a major risk factor for heart disease and promotes inflammation. You’re also likely will lose weight on a blood sugar balancing diet, and that in itself will reduce the risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease and high blood pressure.
Do you notice a trend in my diet tips? What’s to focus on is real food. What you would benefit from decreasing is the processed stuff most people kid themselves is OK for them to eat. Truly, your body doesn't know what’s going on when you shovel in heavily processed or chemically altered foods.
Eating this way - sometimes referred to as a low GL (glycaemic load) diet - will also help, providing your body with a steady supply of energy through the day, rather than a high-octane rollercoaster of energy spikes and troughs.
Putting the food work into your life alongside the commitment to regularly de-stress, move your body and prioritise sleep is not always easy to do on your own. It is always helpful to have someone – like me – in the wings helping you fit what you already know about eating well into your life and keeping you motivated to follow your plan for long enough that you really see a shift in your health.
If you would like to know more, why not book in for a free 30 minute health review here.
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