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Making small changes in your diet could have a big impact on your heart health. Words: Liggie Pelekani
Coronary Heart Disease is still the number one killer in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics, with women three times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer. Although the number of deaths is falling year-on-year as we become more health conscious and medical science advances, it’s still a major problem that can be avoided with small, simple changes in lifestyle.
As well as the essentials of exercising regularly, not smoking, and drinking less, one way to lower cholesterol and maintain a healthy heart is by eating the right foods and avoiding those morsels packed with salt and saturated fat. Harley Street dietitians Noemi Gil and Vicky Malone advise: “This includes eating at least 400g of fruit and vegetables per day, limiting refined carbohydrates and reducing saturated fat intake.”
So this New Year be inspired and try our pick of five foods to keep you fighting fit…
Oily fish such as mackerel contains omega-3, which is a vital ingredient if you’re looking to improve your heart’s health. The British Heart Foundation recommends you aim to eat at least two portions of fish a week, including one portion of oily fish. It lowers the risk of heart attacks by decreasing blood pressure, regulating the heartbeat, relaxing the artery walls and making the blood less susceptible to clotting. Mackerel is also a good source of protein and vitamins A and D.
A staple of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is said to regulate blood flow, decrease the risk of clotting and is rich in healthy monosaturated fats and polyphenols that reduce inflammation. “According to a recent study published in 2012 by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, just two tablespoons of olive oil per day almost halves your risk of dying from heart disease,” says nutritionist Tina Richards. Swap saturated fats such as butter or lard that raise the risk of heart disease, for unsaturated fats like olive oil, to lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels. Lightly drizzle on salads and roasted vegetables.
Fruit such as apples and pears are high in fibre and antioxidants. The fibre found in a pear is made up of pectin and other water-soluble fibres, which are excellent for reducing cholesterol as they bind to the molecules in the bowel instead of letting cholesterol circulate in the bloodstream, leading to vital organs such as the heart. “Pears also contain antioxidant flavonoids which support cardiovascular health by helping to inhibit plaque formation in the arteries,” says Tina. Eat conventionally, or if you’re feeling adventurous, chop it up in a salad with nuts and a sprinkling of blue cheese.
This pocket-sized, pungent spice has been believed to cure and ameliorate a number of medical ailments for millennia. Research into its properties has suggested it reduces the risk of heart disease by decreasing the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries and the amount of harmful cholesterol in the blood. It even has a low calorific value, with one clove only containing approximately 10 calories. “Garlic also contains allicin, which is broken down by the body into sulphur compounds that react with your red blood cells to make hydrogen sulphide. This dilates blood vessels and keeps the blood flowing easily, reducing blood pressure,” explains Tina. Crush it into soups and use in grilled dishes to intensify flavours. And if you aren’t a fan of its pungent scent, you can buy odourless garlic supplements.
The blueberry is one of the most powerful disease-fighting foods around as it’s loaded with antioxidants, which protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Its characteristic blue pigmentation comes from anthocyanins, which provide most of its antioxidant properties. Blueberries are also packed full of fibre — essential for lowering cholesterol — and vitamin C to provide a fillip to your immune system in the cold winter months. Sprinkle on top of wholegrain cereals for a morning boost, eat with yoghurt, or simply drink the juice.
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