February is Heart Month… 5 steps to a healthier heart

February is heart month. According to statistics Canada, heart disease is the second leading cause of death in both men and women. Your heart is a muscle and it’s role is to pump blood throughout our body approximately 100,00 times everyday. Keeping our heart healthy is crucial to staying healthy. There are many different types of heart disease that affect the function of our heart. Research suggests that 80% of heart problems can be preventing by recognizing and managing the risk factors. Healthy food choices play a key role in keeping your heart healthy. What better time to talk about heart health and how making small changes can have a positive impact on your health during heart month. The result is that you’ll feel amazing.

 

What causes heart disease:

The three main risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high blood levels of “bad” cholesterol, and smoking. Additional risk factors include diabetes, overweight and obesity, unhealthy eating and sedentary lifestyle.

Research suggests 80% of heart disease can be prevented by eating healthy, regular physical activity and stress reduction. While we cannot change our genetics we can modify lifestyle factors to improve our overall health.

Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight:

Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is difficult and requires hard work for most people. Being overweight increases ones risk for many chronic diseases including heart disease. Reducing your weight by 5 percent can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Body Mass Index (BMI)  is a tool to measure a ratio to measure ones weight between the ages of 18-65.  BMI uses a ratio of height and weight.

Formula:

Weight(kg) / height (m)²

BMI: 18.9- 24.9  normal

BMI:25-29.9 overweight

BMI: > 30 obese

BMI >40 morbid obesity

Your BMI is a number and does not definitively indicate you are overweight or obese. There are many different factors such as muscle mass that affect a persons BMI. It is important to talk to your doctor about your weight and health risks for heart disease.

In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, carrying excess abdominal weight also increases your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Female:

A waist circumference of 80 cm (31 inches) increases your risk . While women with a waist circumference of more than 88 cm (35 inches) have a substantially higher risk of heart disease.

Male:

A waist circumference of 94 cm (37 inches) increases your risk. While men with a waist circumference of more than 102 cm( 40 inches) have a substantially higher risk of heart disease.

Many different factors affect our heart health like age and genes , things we have no control over. However, things we do have control over such as diet and weight can play a big part in reducing our risk and improving ones heart health.

Cholesterol 101:

Cholesterol has a bad reputation when it comes to our health. However, as research has evoled we now know that not all cholesterol is bad. Cholesterol plays a key role in our health and is made by our liver. Cholesterol functions to make bile, hormones, and it is the membrane that lines our cells. Cholesterol is carried by lipoproteins which are complex particles of fat that circulate in our blood stream and deliver cholesterol to our cells.  There is “good” cholesterol known as High density lipoprotein (HDL) who binds to unused cholesterol and delivers it to the liver where it is recycled. And there is”bad” cholesterol also known as Low density lipoprotein (LDL) who deposits cholesterol in the bloodstream and sometimes it gets deposited in the walls of your arteries. When cholesterol builds up in our arteries it can build up plaque and the walls become narrow, reducing blood flow, increasing the risk of a heart attack and or stroke.

Many different factors such as genetics, weight, physical activity, stress and diet play a role in our health. Healthy eating and exercise play an important role preventing heart disease.  Let’s take a look at 5 tips to keep your heart healthy.

1). Eat more Vegetables (and Fruit):

Vegetables made the  top of the list because most of us don’t eat enough.  When it comes to diet and your heart health they play a big role. When I say eat more vegetables and fruit, you should be eating more vegetables than fruit (pretty sure most dietitian’s would agree).  Vegetables and fruit help achieve and maintain a healthy weight because they are low in calories, fat and high in fibre to keep you full. Vegetables and fruit are also high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which play an important anti- inflammatory role. Chronic inflammation increases your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease.

A good rule of thumb is to fill half your plate with vegetables and choose lots of color, think of a rainbow when your grocery shopping.  A great way to increase your vegetable intake is to participate in movements like “meatless Monday’s” not only are you taking better care of your heart but the environment too. Our family loves this roasted beet quinoa and carrot salad and these vegan lentil sloppy joes. 

2). Eat more Soluble Fibre:

When I am say eat more fibre I don’t mean substituting whole wheat bread for white. Reach for the super grains like real old fashion oats, barley, quinoa, wheat berries, lentils, legumes and fruits like apples and oranges. Fibre acts like a gel by binding to cholesterol and preventing reabsorption in the blood stream.  Start your day of with a bowl of fibre rich oats such as this apple and pear baked oats. No, I am not talking about those instant flavoured oatmeal packs. If you are looking for some new breakfast grains check our Friache Nutrition.

 

3). Choose heart healthy fats

Choose heart healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, walnut or flax seed oil. These oils are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils which have many heart health benefits such as reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good cholesterol). Furthermore, monounsaturated oils have anti-inflammatory properties. Choose fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel twice a week. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, meaning our bodies do not make them and we have get them from food and/or supplements.  Fatty fish are high in both docsahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) omega -3 fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties.  If you don’t like fish or are vegetarian talk to your health care provider about an omega – 3 fatty acid supplement. Plant sources of omega – 3 fatty acids include walnuts, flax and hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Please note that plant sources of omega- fatty acids is in the alpha-linolenic (ALA) and our bodies are not efficient at converting them to DHA and EPA. In addition to anti-inflammatory properties omega-3 fatty acids help lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure.

 

4). Eat Real Food:

Processed and fast foods are full of salt, sugar, fats, and artificial ingredients that raise blood sugars, cause weight gain and inflammation.  These factors increase your risk of heart disease. Instead of choosing unhealthy convenience foods cook your own food as often as possible. This way you control the ingredients and you know what’s in your food.  A good tip is to meal plan and do your meal prep once a week…. honestly it’s that easy.  Know what’s in your food and choose nutrient dense foods like vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, healthy fats more often.  Remember healthy eating should be easy and taste delicious.

5). Cut the salt:

Salt is an essential mineral and we need a little in our diet. Salt helps conduct nerve impulses, balance water and minerals. Too much salt can cause high blood pressure as water is attracted to salt. The more salt we have the more fluid we retain.  When t comes to heart health salt has a bad reputation. So is salt as bad as we think? It comes down to your lifestyle. If you eat out all the time and rely on hyper processed foods, than yes. The average Canadian eats approximately 3400 mg of salt per day, which is more than the recommended 2300 mg (1 tsp/day). More than 70% of processed foods account for our salt intake.  While it is hard to avoid processed foods I would recommend a more plant based whole foods approach and read food labels whenever possible.  A lot of the time people think we need to get rid of the salt shaker but adding a bit of salt during the cooking process or to season lightly is totally fine.

Diet plays an important role in healthy eating. In addition to a healthy, whole food approach,  regular physical activity is beneficial.  Not only will you feel better but your body and heart will thank-you.  Physical activity helps us achieve and maintain a healthy weight, improves metabolism, strengthens bones, improve immune system and mood. People who are physically active on a regular basis usually are more health conscious about their diets. Don’t let the winter weather scare you away from exercise and for tips on how to stay active in the winter months.

 

References:

The government of Canada:
Report from the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System:Heart Disease in Canada, 2018. Accessed Feb26,2020

Heart and stroke foundation

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