What To Eat For A Healthy Heart

What is a healthy diet for a healthy heart? Find out which foods to include in your diet.

What To Eat For A Healthy Heart  photo

Eating a healthy diet for a healthy heart can help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Your heart is a muscle about fist sized, located in the centre of the chest slightly to the left of the breastbone. It is responsible for continuously pumping blood around your body to carry oxygen and nutrients to cells and to remove carbon dioxide and waste products from cells. To do this well, your heart needs great nourishment from a range of different foods. If you are looking for dietary hints and tips to support your heart, this article is just for you.

Dietary recommendations for heart health

Eat a balanced healthy diet every day

What does this mean? A balanced healthy diet is one where all essential nutrients are supplied without excess to the body. It means eating a portion of protein (eg. meat, fish, tofu, eggs, nuts), healthy fats (eg. olive oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish such as salmon or mackerel) and complex carbohydrates (eg. whole grains, brown rice, quinoa, legumes, pulses) at each meal. Eating balanced meals ensures that you control your blood glucose levels avoiding dysglycaemia and insulin resistance which can lead to heart disease. In addition, eating healthy fats helps to control your blood lipids, especially cholesterol, which prevents the development of dyslipidaemia and potentially atherosclerosis and heart disease. Check out this article 'Eating for a healthy heart with a Mediterranean-style Diet ' to find out more.

Eat a wide range of vegetables and fruit

Vegetables and fruit provide our body with vitamins and minerals involved in energy production for the heart and act as antioxidants, protecting the heart from oxidative stress. They also provide polyphenols which play an important role in controlling cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Use a rainbow as your guide, eating at least one portion from each colour (red, orange, yellow/white, green and blue/purple) every day! Herbs and spices can also count as they contain many micronutrients that are able to support our health. To maximise the benefit, eat as wide a range of vegetables and fruit as possible. Aim for at least 30 different vegetables and fruit each week. Experiment and have fun bringing lots of colour to your plate!

Eating healthy fats is important

Our body needs fat to survive. Omega-3 fats are essential fats as our body is unable to make them. They play an important role in heart health as they help to keep cell walls flexible and enable compounds to pass in and out of cells as required. They also act as antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory, mopping up free radicals that have the potential to damage our cells and cause inflammation. Eating healthy fats also helps balance our cholesterol and triglyceride levels, playing an important role in reducing the risk of atherosclerosis. To find out more, check out the article 'Is atherosclerosis reversible?'.

Healthy fats to include in our daily diet are found in olive oil, flaxseeds, walnut, almonds, pumpkin, sunflower, avocados as well as in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, herring and trout).

Watch your salt intake

In our typical western diet today, we can consume large quantities of salt, usually added to the prepared foods we buy. Sodium (in salt) and potassium are two minerals that exist in balance with each other (as one increases, the other drops). They are important in health as they support the movement of nutrients and waste in and out of cells. Excess sodium has been associated with high blood pressure which may lead to heart disease.

Aim to increase your intake of potassium-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy and minimise your sodium intake from processed breads and snacks, canned foods and fast-food.

Include Magnesium-rich foods daily

Magnesium plays an important role in heart health as it is required for energy production in cells, supports muscle relaxation and contraction and for protein synthesis. Great food sources of magnesium are leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, soyabean and tofu. Aim to have at least one portion per day.

Ensure your grains are whole grains

Wholegrains means that the food concerned has not been milled to remove the outer bran layer and germ. Wholegrains retain all their natural fibre, vitamin and mineral content and this has been shown to support heart health. Swap your white bread and pasta for wholemeal, stoneground versions where possible. Swap white polished rice for brown and include other wholegrains such as quinoa, buckwheat, millet into your daily diet.

Including all of these foods in a Mediterranean-style diet provides a healthy diet for a healthy heart to minimise your risk of heart disease.

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Chareonrungrueangchai, K., et al. (2020) Dietary factors and risks of cardiovascular diseases: An umbrella review. Nutrients, [online] 12(4).

Van Dael, P. (2021) Role of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human nutrition and health: Review of recent studies and recommendations. Nutrition Research and Practice, [online] 15(2), pp.137–159.

Liu, M., et al. (2021) Magnesium deficiency causes a reversible, metabolic, diastolic cardiomyopathy. Journal of the American Heart Association, [online] 10(12).

Tang, G.et al. (2015) Meta-analysis of the association between whole grain intake and coronary heart disease risk. American Journal of Cardiology, [online] 115(5), pp.625–629.