By Simone Jennings, Registered Dietitian
According to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation every seven minutes someone in Canada dies from heart disease or stroke. Heart disease and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada, costing the Canadian economy $22.2 billion every year in physician services, hospital costs, lost wages and decreased productivity.
Luckily through a healthy lifestyle we are able to control or prevent many of the risk factors for heart disease such as physical inactivity, being overweight, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, stress, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. Being physically active and eating a healthy diet will have a significant impact on the health of your heart and blood vessels.
If you are looking for ways to make your diet more ‘heart smart’ here are a few things to consider.
Concerned about cholesterol? A low cholesterol diet is not necessarily the key to healthy blood cholesterol levels. The truth is the types and amounts of fat we eat actually have just as much or more influence on our blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol does. If you have elevated cholesterol levels you should limit high cholesterol foods, such as egg yolks, shrimp, and organ meats to twice a week, but it is also important is to follow the tips below to increase fibre and healthy fats.
Get the facts on fat. Not all fat is created equal so following a strict low fat diet is not the solution to a healthier heart. It is actually important to eat moderate amounts of healthy fats such as avocadoes, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and cold water fish. However, you do want to limit saturated fat and trans fat as they can increase ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. Try to limit these fats to less than 20 grams per day combined by choosing low fat dairy products, lean meats, non hydrogenated margarines (or butter in moderation), and avoid baked goods made with hydrogenated oils.
Focus on fibre! Soluble fibre is particularly important for heart health as it helps keep cholesterol levels in check. Soluble fibre is found in oats, barley, ground flaxseeds, nuts, legumes, psyllium husks, and apples. Fibre not only helps lower cholesterol but it also provides appetite satiety to prevent overeating and promote a healthy body weight.
Be sodium savvy. Excess dietary sodium is a major risk factor for developing high blood pressure. Read the nutrition label on packaged foods to check the sodium content. Most packaged or canned foods contain added salt. It is recommended to limit sodium intake to 1500 milligrams per day. Look for products that state ‘no added salt’ and rinse canned foods before eating.
The best way to start making healthier choices is to be informed about what you are eating. Before putting an item in your grocery cart look at the nutrition labels. This means looking past the health claims on the front of the package and reading the Nutrition Facts Table and Ingredients List. For more information visit Health Canada’s website and check out the new interactive label reading tools www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/label-etiquet/nutrition/index-eng.php