A growing body of evidence supports the fact that dietary choices can significantly influence heart health. The right choices can help manage cardiovascular disease, while others may exacerbate the condition. Here, we will explore how the right healthy foods can prevent and manage cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease, an umbrella term for several heart and blood vessel conditions, remains the leading cause of death worldwide. Hypertension, atherosclerosis, stroke, and heart failure are among the common conditions falling under this category. Some of the primary risk factors include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.
The power of a balanced diet
Adopting a balanced diet is a powerful step towards managing and preventing cardiovascular disease. Numerous scientific studies affirm that nutrient-rich foods can help to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, manage body weight, and keep blood sugar levels stable.
A balanced diet includes an assortment of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This mix of nutrients works together to support heart health in various ways.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Antioxidants found in many fruits and vegetables can help prevent the buildup of harmful atherosclerotic plaques in blood vessels, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Regular intake of these nutrient-dense foods can also aid in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber and help to lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) while increasing good cholesterol (HDL). Foods such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole grain bread or pasta contribute to a healthy heart by reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Lean proteins, like poultry, fish, legumes, and low-fat dairy, play a vital role in heart health. These proteins contain less saturated fat compared to red meats. They also provide essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids (in fish) that can reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart disease.
Contrary to popular belief, not all fats are harmful. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, and fatty fish, can help lower bad cholesterol levels and increase good cholesterol. These fats should replace trans fats and saturated fats, which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Limiting sodium and added sugars
Besides incorporating healthy foods into your diet, it’s also important to limit sodium and added sugars. High sodium intake can increase blood pressure, while excessive sugars can lead to weight gain and increased heart disease risk.
Physical activity and portion control
A heart-healthy diet should go hand in hand with regular physical activity and portion control. Regular exercise helps maintain a healthy weight and lower blood pressure. On the other hand, portion control ensures that you are not consuming excessive calories, which could lead to weight gain and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The Mediterranean diet
Often hailed as one of the healthiest diets globally, the Mediterranean diet provides a useful guide for heart-healthy eating. This diet emphasises fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, and lean proteins like fish and poultry.
The battle against cardiovascular disease starts on your plate. It is never too late to start making healthier food choices, and every small step counts. Incorporating these foods into your diet, coupled with regular physical activity, can significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. However, always consult with a healthcare provider before making significant changes to your diet, especially if you have existing health conditions. Remember, in the journey of heart health, food isn’t just fuel; it’s medicine.
Lisa Montgomery, MD is a board-certified internal medicine specialist with over 20 years of experience, dedicated to empowering her patients through informed healthcare choices.