Cardiovascular disease is a concern within our society however many of the risk factors are preventable through a healthy diet and exercise. Eating a diet high in vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains, and healthy omega 3 essential fatty acids are protective measures that can be adopted. Furthermore avoiding processed foods, high in sugar and trans fatty acids and keeping active will have your heart in good health.
Research strongly supports the Mediterranean-style diet to promote a health heart. It has been shown to reduce the risk of blood pressure and beyond that is protective against arthritis, alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, asthma, lung disease and allergies.
What’s A Mediterranean Diet?
1. Eat an abundance of fresh vegetables and fresh fruit.
As previously mentioned creating a harmonious balance between Omega 3 and omega 6 is essential in down regulating inflammation within the body. Consume a minimum of 4 cups of brightly colored vegetables such as spinach, kale, capsicum, cucumber, tomatoes, garlic, onion zucchini e.t.c. Keeping the hi-glycemic vegetables such as potato to a much smaller proportion. Low glycemic vegetables are high in fibre which can help lower cholesterol, whilst maintain the healthy HDL cholesterol levels. They also offer the body an abundance of antioxidants that help to prevent the oxidation of blood fats. Vitamin K1 is found in green leafy vegetables, vitamin K may slow the hardening of the arteries in people with atherosclerosis. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables helps to reduce inflammation within the body and protect against cardiovascular disease.
2. Choose whole grains over refined carbohydrates
Whole grains are nutritionally superior to refined carbohydrates. Whole grains have the outer fibre layer and the inner bran layer still intact. The outer bran layer contains fibre and minerals, B vitamins and the inner germ layer contains healthy oils such as vitamin E. Removing the germ and bran layer (refining process) drastically reduces the amount of nutrients available. The fibre layer (bran) also allows for the carbohydrates to be slowly released into the body. Eating processed carbohydrates such as white brads, cakes, biscuits can elevate blood sugar levels. Long term elevated blood sugar levels can lead to diabetes and other health complaints.
3. Choose healthy fats
As previously mentioned creating a harmonious balance between Omega 3 and omega 6 is essential in down regulating inflammation. Optimizing omega 3 essential fatty acids within the diet can be achieved by eating at least two servings of fish per week, include oily fish such as wild caught salmon, sardines, mackerel. Such fish are high in Omega 3 fatty acids that help to down regulate inflammation within the body and are protective against heart disease. Avoid trans-fatty acids, they are found in commercially purchased cakes, biscuits, margarine and deep fried foods. Trans fatty acids have a negative effect upon cholesterol levels and a risk in the development of cardiovascular disease. Healthy fats can be found in raw nuts and seeds, cold pressed nut and seed oils and avocado. Nuts and seeds are a great snack to have between meals, you should aim for a small handful every day. Cold pressed oils (olive, nut and seed oils) posses many health benefits however the health benefits are only when the oil is used raw and not heated to high temperatures. Drizzle oil’s over salads, dips, steamed vegetables, fruit salads and yoghurt.
4. Alcohol- only in moderation
The Mediterranean diet supports the consumption of red wine in moderation, this equates to one standard drink that is about 100mls. Traditionally it is to be consumed with a meal. Having a few alcohol free days a week is important for good health.
How Else Can I Support My Heart Through My Diet? Nutrients for a Healthy Heart
CoQ10 is a great anti-oxidant that can help prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, therefore protecting the body against atherosclerosis. A double blind, cross over clinical trial has shown CoQ10 to reduce blood pressure through increasing the production of prostacyclin (PGI2). Prostacyclin is a signaling molecule that helps dilate and relax the arteries which in turn reduces blood pressure and cardio-vascular disease risk. A few forms of CoQ10 are available ask your Practitioner which is the best form of CoQ10 for you.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient for heart health. Magnesium has been shown to help lower blood pressure, elevated blood pressure is a well known risk factor in cardio-vascular disease. Magnesium helps to lower blood pressure via a few mechanisms, one of which is by activating sodium/potassium (Na/ K) pumps to reduce the amount of intracellular sodium. Not all magnesium supplements are equal, the form of the magnesium will greatly alter the way it is absorbed through the digestive tract. Please ask your Naturopath about the most efficiently absorbed form.
Essential Fatty Acids – Omega 3 Fish Oil
Establishing a harmonious balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 essential fatty acids in the diet can be extremely preventative against the ill effects of inflammation and cardio vascular disease. Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Fish oil) may lower blood fats, reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of most forms of cardiovascular disease.
B vitamins play an important role in providing energy and are essential in managing stress. In particular B12, folic acid and B6 are needed to reduce plasma homocysteine levels, a contributor to atherosclerosis. B6 alone has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Your Naturopath can have your homocysteine levels tested to establish if such nutrients are needed.
If you suffer heart problems and would like more information on how natural therapies can help, be sure to read our article Natural Treatments For Cardiovascular Disease.