Making the right steps towards healthier eating habits can do wonders for the health of your heart. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess weight are all significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but luckily they can be controlled through lifestyle changes. By making smart food choices, you can attack all three of these factors.
So how do you do it?
It’s a bit of a psychological game when it comes to breaking old habits and creating new ones. I like to put an emphasis on adding in the ‘good’ stuff and allowing the ‘bad’ stuff to get phased out. As a naturopath, I also look to the WHY. Understanding WHY you’re wanting to make healthy changes can be a powerful motivational tool. It could be to lower your risk of heart disease, come off medications, or improve your overall cardio health so you can keep up with the cycling club. Whatever your WHY is, here are some how-to’s:
The Good Stuff
1. FIBER: there are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is particularly beneficial for cholesterol levels as it decreases both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, also known as the “bad” cholesterol (1).
Psyllium is one example of a soluble fiber with recent studies showing its ability to optimize cholesterol levels (2).
Whole grain oats are also effective in lowering cholesterol (3).
2. FLAVONOIDS: fruits and vegetables never go out of style. Higher intake of fruit and vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke (4,5). Not only do they contain high amounts of fiber, but they also contain compounds called flavonoids that act as antioxidants in the body to reduce damage to small blood vessels. There are many different types of flavonoids, but most foods containing flavonoids are often very colourful (and not from artificial dyes)
Berries such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and cherries are particularly high in a type of flavonoid called anthocyanidins.
Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, broccoli, and asparagus contain the flavonoid called flavonol.
3. OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS: areas of the world that consume more fish tend to have lower rates of heart disease indicating a protective effect of fish consumption on heart health. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish have been studied extensively and are found to lower triglyceride levels in the blood and potentially reduce the risk of heart disease (6).
Fatty fish, such as salmon and trout, are the best source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Nuts and seeds including flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts also contain some omega-3 fatty acids.
4. GREEN TEA: Camellia sinensis is the latin name for this be-all super-herb. Along with its many other health benefits, green tea has been shown to lower blood pressure, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol (7). The active component of green tea is EGCG, which is another type of flavonoid.
Matcha, the more potent form of green tea, or just a regular cup of green tea, can make a good substitute for that second cup of coffee in a day.
Dietary modifications such as incorporating the above nutrients, are just one aspect of a comprehensive cardiovascular prevention plan. As a naturopath, I also use additional lifestyle modifications, nutritional supplementation, and botanicals depending on an individual's needs.
To get your comprehensive cardiovascular prevention plan, come see me at Juniper Family Health (778-265-8340) in Victoria, BC.
1. Brown, L., Rosner, B., Willett, W., Sacks, F. (1999). Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 69(1), 30.
2. Jovanoski, E., Yashpal, S., Komishon, A., Zurbau, A., Blanco, M., Ho, H… Vuksan, V. (2018). Effect of psyllium (Plantago ovata) fiber on LDL cholesterol and alternative lipid targets, non-HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108(5), 922.
3. Hollaender, P., Ross, A., Kristensen, M. (2015). Whole-grain and blood lipid changes in apparently health adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies.
4. Miller, V., Mente, A., Dehghan, M., Rangarajan, S., Zhang, X., Swaminathan, S…. Yusuf, S. (2017). Fruit, vegetable, and legume intake, and cardiovascular disease and deaths in 18 countries (PURE): a prospective cohort study. Lancet, 390(10107), 2037.
5. Dauchet, L., Amouyel, P., Dallongeville, J. (2005). Fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with lower rates of coronary heart disease. Results from observational studies suggest a similar association with stroke. Neurology, 65(8), 1193.
6. Mozaffarian, D., Wu, J. (2011). Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: effects on risk factors, molecular pathways, and clinical events. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 58(20), 2047-2067.
7. Onakpoya, I., Spencer, E., Heneghan, C., Thompson, M. (2014). The effect of green tea on blood pressure and lipid profile: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, 24(8), 823.