As the leading cause of death in Australia, cardiovascular disease is one of the most significant health conditions in our country and kills one Australian every 12 minutes (1). Cardiovascular disease involves all diseases and conditions of the heart and blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
There are many ways you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, including managing your cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and blood sugar levels as well as eating well and exercising regularly.
Here are a few simple ways you can change your eating habits to decrease your risk:
Eat more plants
Studies show that aiming for a couple of pieces of fruit and at least 5 serves of vegetables every day is consistently linked to having a healthier heart. According to The Heart Foundation, “the fibre, potassium and other micronutrients contained in fruits and vegetables have shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol, therefore providing a protective effect towards cardiovascular disease” (2).
Swap from refined grains to whole grains
Choosing the highest fibre wholegrain alternatives of foods like bread, rice, pasta, barley, quinoa and oats rather than highly processed ‘white’ options helps to improve cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease.
Reduce saturated fats whilst increasing healthy fats
Minimise the amount of animal fats that you eat by choosing lean meats, trimming any visible fat and avoiding processed meats like salami, sausages and pies. Other sources of saturated fats include butter, cream, cakes, pastries, palm oil and coconut oil. Instead, aim to eat more healthy unsaturated fats like avocado, unsalted nuts, seeds, olive oil and fish.
Choose a balanced mix of healthy proteins
Recent research shows that it’s not only the saturated fat, salt and preservatives in red or processed meat which affects our heart disease risk. Our gut microbiota produces Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) when we eat these foods, and high levels of TMAO reduce the removal of ‘bad’ cholesterol from our arteries, makes our blood more likely to clot and increases our risk of heart attack or stroke. It’s best to keep red meat to less than 455g per week and eat more plant proteins, fish and white meat instead.
Eggs have historically been thought to be bad for cholesterol, however they have now been shown to be ok and The Heart Foundation recommends having up to six or seven eggs per week (3).
Having meals based on plant proteins (such as legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu and tempeh) regularly in your week is also great for your heart health. This is partly because it helps to reduce your meat intake but also because these foods are great sources of fibre, healthy fats, phytonutrients and important vitamins.
Including at least 2-3 fish or seafood meals per week is also a fantastic way to get more omega-3’s, decrease your saturated fat intake and reduce your overall risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Fibre is helpful for cardiovascular risk and in particular a type called ‘soluble’ fibre which can reduce your absorption of cholesterol. Oats, barley, legumes, fruit and vegetables are especially great sources of soluble fibre.
For more information on how to improve your eating habits for heart health, visit www.heartfoundation.org.au or speak to your dietitian.
(1) Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Causes of Death 2017, ABS cat. no. 3303.0, September.