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[5 min read] Nutrition to fight heart disease
Did you know that one-third of all deaths worldwide can be attributed to cardiovascular diseases (CVD)? Diet is a big deal in the prevention and management of CVD and its risk factors, including diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidaemia (1). Primary care physicians are well placed to help patients who are concerned about heart disease or overall cardiovascular health by providing medical nutrition advice.
Here are three heart-healthy tips that your patients can really sink their teeth into.
- Don’t fixate on fat
When people think of a heart-healthy diet, they may imagine glum dinners of flavourless steamed vegetables and white fish. Food packages have announced statements such as “fat-free”, “low in saturated fat” and “no cholesterol”. While these well-meaning claims were intended to help people avoid “bad” saturated fats, current research tells a different story.
Recent studies have shown that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat (such as omega-3 fatty acid) appears to boost heart health by improving cholesterol levels and lowering blood pressure (2). Encouraging patients to replace foods high in saturated fat with foods rich in unsaturated fat is a good place to start. This includes cooking with olive oil and adding foods such as fatty fish, avocados, nuts and seeds to their diets in place of red meat and full-fat dairy.
- Use flavourful alternatives for salt
Patients with heart disease are often encouraged to ditch the salt shaker. Too much sodium, the element found in salt, can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of developing heart disease (3). Most of the sodium we consume is already in our foods, especially packaged foods, so reading nutrition labels is an important way for patients to know how much salt they are consuming. Most canned foods are high in sodium, so choosing fresh or frozen foods such as vegetables can help reduce sodium intake.
Fortunately, a heart-healthy diet doesn’t have to be devoid of seasoning. Introduce patients to the brighter side of heart-healthy eating by promoting the use of herbs, spices, and condiments in their cooking.
- Embrace a plant-based diet
A heart-healthy diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and monounsaturated fats can improve cardiovascular outcomes, increase energy levels, and reduce the risk of developing other health conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease (4). The traditional Mediterranean diet is a star example of a heart-healthy dietary pattern, focusing on flavour-packed foods that offer increased satiety with its emphasis on plant food and fats like olive oil. It is high in fibre and plant compounds called flavonoids, which decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke by fighting inflammation (5).
Learn more about how dietary strategies influence heart disease risk in the online Professional Diploma Program in Medical Nutrition.
Lynette Law, Provisional Accredited Practising Dietitian (Provisional)
- Jain S, Feldman R, Althouse AD, Spagnoletti C, Proksell S. A Nutrition Counseling Curriculum to Address Cardiovascular Risk Reduction for Internal Medicine Residents. MedEdPORTAL. 2020;16:11027-.
- Hayes J, Benson G. What the Latest Evidence Tells Us About Fat and Cardiovascular Health. Diabetes Spectr. 2016;29(3):171-5.
- Wang Y-J, Yeh T-L, Shih M-C, Tu Y-K, Chien K-L. Dietary Sodium Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):2934.
- Kim H, Caulfield LE, Garcia‐Larsen V, Steffen LM, Coresh J, Rebholz CM. Plant‐Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All‐Cause Mortality in a General Population of Middle‐Aged Adults. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2019;8(16):e012865.
- Martínez-González MA, Gea A, Ruiz-Canela M. The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation Research. 2019;124(5):779-98.
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