1. Watch your fats!
Cut down on Saturated fats-‘bad’ fat, that usually the ones that stay solid at room temperature. Examples of saturated fat include: butter, fat found in beef, chicken skin, lard, palm oil.
They react in our bodies by increasing LDL cholesterol -the ‘lazy/lousy’ cholesterol. Another type of ‘bad’ fats are trans fats. These are the manufactured fats that are often found in commercially produced cakes, cookies, hydrogenated margarines, and shortenings.
These react in our bodies by increasing LDL cholesterol (‘lazy/lousy’ cholesterol) and decreasing HDL cholesterol – the ‘happy’ cholesterol. Therefore, trans fats launch a two-prong attack on our arterial health. So a diet high in saturated and trans fats can increase the level of plaque build up in our arteries that can lead to blockages in the heart.
It is better to choose mono or polyunsaturated fats – ‘good’ fats in our diet as they help to increase HDL cholesterol – the ‘happy’ cholesterol and decrease LDL cholesterol -the ‘lazy/lousy’ cholesterol. These are often found in vegetable oils, avocado oil, olive oil, nuts and fish.
2. Fibre is our friend
There are two different kinds of fibre – insoluble and soluble. Both work in very different ways and are very beneficial for maintaining a healthy heart. Soluble fibre is a soft fibre that dissolves in water. It helps to lower blood cholesterol and to control blood sugars. Best sources of water soluble fibre are oat bran, oatmeal, legumes such as dried peas, beans, and lentils, apples, strawberries, citrus fruits, and barley.
Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water. It helps keep the digestive system healthy, and by keeping the naturally occurring bacteria in the GI tract happy. As a result, they message back to your liver to take a break from making more cholesterol. Best sources of water insoluble fibre are wheat bran, whole grain foods like whole wheat bread, vegetables, fruits, and legumes, such as dried peas, beans, and lentils.
3. Eat the rainbow
Fruits and vegetables are important for a heart healthy diet. They are jam packed with nutrients like vitamin A, C and folate that help protect our bodies against oxidative damage. The colors found in the Fruit and vegetable aisle indicate the variety of antioxidants available to you, so the more of the rainbow you can get in your cart – the better off you are!
They also have compounds called phytochemicals that may help protect you against heart disease and stroke. Fruits and vegetables are generally low in calories and fat and are rich in fibre, so they can help keep your digestive system happy as well as with maintaining/achieving a healthy body weight.
4. Fantastic fish
Omega 3 fatty acids are one type of polyunsaturated fat that is found in fatty fish. This helps prevent clotting of blood, reducing the risk of stroke and also helps lower triglycerides, a type of blood fat linked to heart disease.
The best sources of omega-3 fat are cold-water fish such as mackerel, sardines, herring, rainbow trout and salmon. Canada’s Food Guide suggests getting 2 servings of fish (75g) per week to get the recommended dosage of omega 3 fatty acids. For any of those who don’t eat fish, flaxseeds and walnuts also have this heart healthy fat.
5. Cut out that excess salt
Your blood pressure is maintained by a normal amount of circulating water. This water also helps to regulate body temperature as well as other functions. So where does the salt (sodium) come in? When we eat too much salt (which is 40% sodium in 1 tsp) our bodies hold on to excess water.
This extra hoarding of water by our body and its continued movement throughout the blood vessels causes an increase in pressure. This excess pressure unnecessarily pounds these vessels and can cause them to weaken. When they weaken they become easy targets for oxidative stress leading to plaque build up.
6. Get that body moving
Physical inactivity can lead to excess weight, which is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke. By achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. A healthy weight can also help control other conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. Tips for maintaining a healthy weight include:
- Choose to be healthy through diet and physical activity.
- Achieving a healthy weight takes time and commitment, so take it slow.
- Best to avoid fad diets as they are not long term solutions.
- Eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruit, and complex carbohydrates but that is also lower in saturated and trans fats.
- Bake, broil, steam, boil or grill your food to avoid using too much fat in your cooking.
- Watch your portion sizes: half of your plate should have veggies, a quarter should have whole grains and the remaining quarter should have lean meats or alternatives like beans.
- If overeating is your way of coping with stress, identify the source of your stress and learn new ways to cope
7. Time to butt out!
There are many negative health effects that smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke have, that increase your risk for developing heart disease and stroke. Smoking plays a role in:
- building up of plaque in your arteries
- increasing the risk of blood clots
- reducing the oxygen in your blood
- increasing your blood pressure and
- makes your heart work harder
8. Excessive alcohol intake
An occasional glass of red wine has shown to be beneficial for your heart. But any type of alcohol in excess can increase your blood pressure and contribute to heart disease and stroke. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit it to no more than 1-2 standard drinks for a maximum of 9 drinks/week for women and 14 drinks/week for men.
My Recipe of the Month
Tuna and vegetable pasta casserole
Adapted from: Heart and Stroke foundation
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 to 35 minutes
Yield: 2.125 L (9 cups)
- 750 mL (3 cups) whole-wheat fusilli or rotini pasta
- 500 mL (2 cups) diced mixed frozen vegetables
- 15 mL (1 tbsp) soft non-hydrogenated margarine
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 45 mL (3 tbsp) all-purpose flour
- 2 mL (1/2 tsp) each dried thyme and basil leaves
- 750 mL (3 cups) low-fat milk
- 1 mL (1/4 tsp) freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cans (170 g/120 g drained) low-sodium solid light tuna in water, drained
- 75 mL (1/3 cup) shredded light old cheddar style cheese
- 125 mL (1/2 cup) fresh whole-wheat breadcrumbs
- 15 mL (1 tbsp) chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- 15 mL (1 tbsp) soft non-hydrogenated margarine, melted
- In a large pot of boiling water, cook pasta for 4 minutes. Add vegetables and cook for 2 minutes or until pasta is tender but firm. Drain well and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in saucepan, melt margarine over medium heat and cook onions for 2 minutes or until softened. Add flour, thyme and basil and cook stirring, for 1 minute (mixture will be dry and crumbly). Whisk in milk and cook, whisking gently for about 8 minutes or until bubbly and thickened. Whisk in pepper. Add pasta, vegetables, tuna and cheese and stir to combine well. Pour into shallow ovenproof casserole dish.
- In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, parsley and melted margarine. Sprinkle over pasta mixture and bake in 220°C (425°F) oven for about 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly around edges.