Simplify Your Diet for a Healthy Heart

Ahh, can you feel it? Love is in the air this month. Hunter is a loving dad to his children and partner; however, with his kids starting high school he feels that it’s finally time to give himself a little more TLC. In light of February’s heart health month, he decided to check his blood pressure while out getting groceries and to his surprise, it was quite high, 148/92. He had never smoked, was a healthy weight and tried to keep his stress levels down at work. Upon checking in with his doctor, he learned that as you get older, and with his father passing away from a heart attack, he was at a higher cardiovascular risk. Hunter knew it was time to get some more information to stay healthy for his family and have the ability to keep up with his active teens. Thankfully, he visited his dietician to learn about a few more steps he could take to keep his most vital organ in superior shape.

1. Choose (your fats) Wisely
Not all dietary fats are created equal. But when you’re looking online for the best types to choose, you quickly become bombarded with mixed messages – one day eggs are healthy, the next they should be completely avoided. Back in the day, doctors touted the message that more fat in our diets equals clogged arteries; new research has shown this isn’t quite the case. However, it is important to consider the type of fat you’re eating, and remember that fat adds a lot of calories to your diet – so it should be used in moderation. I’ve compiled a quick breakdown on heart-smart fats to choose more often and which to avoid, from top to bottom:

Omega-3 Fats
When it comes to heart health, research has shown that these are the best fats to choose.  Omega -3 fats not only increase our HDL (good) cholesterol in our bodies but they also decrease our triglycerides (unhealthy blood fats), and help to reduce the risk of heart disease. These powerhouse fats are found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, char, and lake trout. Alternately, a few great plant sources include chia seed, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.

There are two types of unsaturated fats polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. The monounsaturated fats help to decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol in our bodies – these are the best fats to choose for everyday cooking and eating. Find them in canola oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado. The polyunsaturated fats can help lower LDL cholesterol if used in moderation and are found in the “S” oils - sunflower, safflower, and soybean oils. 

Saturated fats are found in two sources: animal products such as meat and dairy, and some plant products such as coconut and palm oil. These fats cause your body to make more LDL (bad) cholesterol, which increases the risk of blockage in your arteries. This increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. The simple way to distinguish saturated from unsaturated fats? Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature, whereas unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.

These bad boys are the worst fats; they increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease your HDL (good) cholesterol. They can be found in processed foods such as fried foods, shortening, and commercially baked goods. Bonus tip, limit foods that have “hydrogenated” on food label ingredient lists.

2. Get Back to Basics
Our modern society’s expectation of fast and efficient as the new norm is having detrimental effects on our country’s health. We’re slowly moving away from the simple life tasks that have kept us healthy for generations. I’m speaking specifically here to good ol’ home cookin’. It’s really as simple as that. Any idea where the majority of sodium, unhealthy fats and excess calories in our diet stem from? You got it, fast and convenience foods – or in technical terms, ultra-processed foods. Interestingly, 75% of the sodium in our diets arises from these processed foods, not the salt shaker on the table. Lowering sodium in your diet helps lower high blood pressure, which is linked to heart disease and stroke. Aim for less than 5% sodium on food labels, use herbs and spices to flavour dishes, and cook with more whole foods.

3. Exercise Your Hardest Working Muscle
Every day, your heart is tasked with pumping over 7000 litres of blood through your body’s system of blood vessels, which span over 96,500 kilometres – enough to circle around the world twice! It comes with no surprise that your heart needs a regular workout to continue pumping strong. Aim for about 30 minutes of aerobic activity, five days of the week. Some examples of aerobic activity include hiking, swimming and fast-paced walking. The harder you workout, the higher your heart rate rises, meaning your heart is getting even stronger!  Pressed for time? Even a few quick walks during the day is great – just ensure at least ten minutes of continuous, heart-pumping activity to get the best cardiovascular benefit.

The bottom line? Consider using more omega-3 and unsaturated fats in your cooking. Cook your meals at home, with a variety of whole foods. And finally, get out biking, jogging or dancing your way to a healthier heart!