1. Make eating fresh a habit
Not everything needs to be complicated and prescriptive when it comes to supporting your heart through diet. I still believe in flexibility, variety and ultimately making realistic changes that you’ll be able to stick to in the long-term.
One of my all-time top tips is to put a little more effort in the kitchen and reap the rewards – and guess what, this doesn’t necessarily mean more time. Nowadays, many ready meals can take a pretty long time in the oven, so instead, why not get chopping and cook some fresh ingredients on the hob instead?
Fresh ingredients are packed full of nutrients, antioxidants and other vital heart-healthy ingredients, plus they don’t have all the hidden fat, sugar or salt that many processed and packaged foods will have – the very ingredients that are thought to be most detrimental for heart health!
Also, when I say fresh; tinned or frozen ingredients still count, and another top tip is to read the ingredients list – any more than 5 ingredients is a bit of a warning that the item may be more highly processed. And what if there’s no list/packaging at all? Even better! In that case you’re definitely on to a winner!
2. Focus on your fats
Traditionally we were scared into thinking that all fats were bad for our heart and this is how many of the ‘low-fat’ products we see lining our shelves nowadays became established. However, we’re gradually learning that many of the other hidden ingredients that these products contain, such as refined carbs, may be just as bad, or potentially even worse when it comes to our heart health.
The barrage of vegetable oils and spreads came next. These were claimed to be good for our heart and soon took over, with many of us reaching for these over other fats or oils. Fast forward to recent times and we’re again, beginning to question if these really are the best food items to be supporting our cardiovascular system.
Firstly, these are generally very high in omega-6 fatty acids. As a nation, this fatty acid has taken over, making up a large proportion of our fat intake, and leaving poor omega-3 by the wayside. Ideally we want this omega-6:omega-3 ratio to be a little closer again. Secondly, many of these cooking oils are highly processed. If they come in large plastic drums, chances are they aren’t the best of quality. Read my blog for some better options when it comes to cooking oils.
Instead, we want to actively include more healthy fats, and we certainly shouldn’t be wary of doing so. This includes options such as olive oil, fish oils and avocados; these tend to include a higher proportion of omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids, fats which are very much assumed to be heart healthy.
3. Cook more with garlic
The health benefits of garlic are gradually becoming better recognised and it seems this fragrant bulb may have some specific, heart associated health benefits.
A 2016 study revealed that aged garlic extracts could help to slow the build up of plaque in our arteries plus reduce blood pressure,1 both of which, can contribute to atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Whilst aged garlic may be an even more concentrated source of vital antioxidants, getting into the habit of using garlic in your cooking will also help expose you to many of these beneficial constituents.
If you still feel you want a top up, the Garlic, in combination with Hawthorn, in Jan de Vries’ specially formulated capsules makes for a heart healthy supplement choice.
4. Incorporate more berries
Could eating as little as a handful of berries a day help protect your heart? Some of these claims have hit headlines recently and there could be some truth surrounding them...
A large scale nutrition trial has shown that just the difference of one to two portions of berries per day (equivalent to a handful or two) was shown to have significant effects on the risk of cardiovascular related deaths and all-cause mortality.2
These benefits are thought to be attributed to the unique antioxidant capacity of berries. The bright colour is a dead giveaway – although it’s important to get a wide variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables to hit a broader range of different nutrients, it seems that the deep red or purple pigments could be especially beneficial when it comes to heart health.
5. Be sensible with your salt
There has been some debate around salt in recent years. Some have argued that some of the healthiest communities in the world have a high sodium intake, so is salt really that bad? The answer in short is yes, it still appears so, however, in my opinion, a little is ok and the main problem is how we’re consuming salt.
In the Middle East, salt is often consumed largely in combination with fresh fish and copious vegetables. In comparison, in more Western societies, the majority of our salt intake tends to come from highly processed food items which are packed full of other nasties including additives, sugars and fats – all of which are bad news for your heart; surprise, surprise! Therefore, it’s not so easy to get an unbiased nutrition trial without other dietary factors have some sort of influence.
Our intake of potassium to help counter excess sodium is also an important consideration. Potassium is primarily found in vegetables. Therefore, it may very much depend on what you’re pairing your salt with, as to how it will affect your health overall. Paired with fat soaked fish suppers; perhaps not so good, whereas sprinkled sparingly over a fresh spring salad? Probably a much safer option! Therefore, my advice is to use salt sparingly in order to season fresh foods, but limit additional salty snacks or processed foods that are pre-salted.
6. Up the veg
I’ve mentioned fruit, now onto the veg. Now, whilst I’ve mentioned it can be especially helpful to aim to get a nice range of colours in your diet, especially when it comes to veg, I don’t believe in any specific guidelines.
Sure, options such as tomatoes, which are rich in antioxidants such as lycopene or vitamin C, may be particularly protective, but generally, aiming to up your vegetable intake in any way you’re able, is most likely to have some benefit. Whilst traditionally we were told to aim for 5-a-day, the latest advice says to aim a bit higher. Read my blog for some realistic advice around this, if you’re not quite sure where to start.
With vegetables comes dietary fibre, nutrients, and bucket loads of potassium as well; this nutrient is definitely one to top up on through dietary sources as it can help to encourage healthy blood pressure and all-round heart health.
7. Swap in more green tea
When we think of diet, many of us forget the influence drinks can also have. We’re all actively sipping or guzzling away throughout the course of the day, so exactly what we’re drinking is an important consideration.
Of course, water is a top priority and I like to remind you all regularly that the water content as part of other drinks, hot or cold, doesn’t count. We want to hit at least 1.5l of plain, still water, minimum, daily. This will help support your blood pressure and general circulation.
Then, on top of this basic water intake, we can add in some other drinks. Green tea is a must from me if you want to go that extra mile to support your heart health. As most people enjoy a warm brew throughout the course of the day hopefully it can be easily incorporated, and perhaps swapped in, to replace regular tea or high caffeine coffee options.
Green tea is packed full of antioxidants, including polyphenols and catechins, which are thought to exert some specific, protective effects on your heart. In this way, green tea is thought to help have a positive influence on a number of heart health risk factors including cholesterol levels3 or high blood pressure4 which of course, are common precursors to other issues such as heart disease.
In terms of which form of green tea to opt for, my advice is to stick to the tea which you can drink, rather than opting for any high-strength tablets which may not be so well tolerated. However, for more info on my advice around green tea, click the link to access my blog on this topic.