Healthy eating habits/Healthy Eating for a Healthy Heart
Healthy eating is a general term that usually refers to the consumption of foods that maintain or improve health. In Australia, a healthy diet should follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, consisting primarily of:
- wholegrain and/or high fibre breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes/beans
- a variety of fruits
- plenty of different coloured vegetables
- reduced-fat milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives
- small amounts of unsaturated fats such as oils, spreads, nut butters/pastes and avocado
- limit foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol
A Healthy Heart
A healthy heart refers to the absence of damage or disease in the heart and/or blood vessels. The heart and its vessels form the circulatory system, which transports nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other materials throughout the body allowing other organ systems to function . Damage to the heart or its vessels usually has widespread effects and may result in a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure or even death.
Key Foods and Nutrients that Affect Heart Health
Probably the two most commonly discussed nutrients when talking about heart health are fat and sodium. However, there are many other nutrients and foods that can have an impact on heart health, and a few of the major ones will be discussed below.
Saturated fat tends to be solid at room temperature and is most commonly found in meat, dairy products, coconut and palm oils, and processed foods such as chips, chocolate and fast-food . The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that intake of saturated fat should be limited because research has shown that it increases the “bad” or LDL cholesterol in the blood, which is associated with increased risk of heart disease. To reduce intake choose low-fat dairy products, trimmed meat and limit intake of processed and take-away foods.
Trans fats have a similar chemical composition to saturated fats. There are small amounts of trans fats naturally occurring in animal products, however, the majority of trans fats in the diet come from unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils that are hydrogenated during processing. Trans fats are found in fried foods, margarine, fast food products, shortening, commercial baked good and snack foods. Like saturated fats, trans fats increase LDL cholesterol, but have also been attributed to decreasing "good" or HDL cholesterol levels in the blood. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend to limit the consumption of foods containing trans fats.
Dietary cholesterol intake increases LDL cholesterol levels in the blood and the recommendations are to limit its intake; however, its effect on blood cholesterol is not as strong as that of saturated fat and trans fat. Foods that contain higher amounts of cholesterol include: egg yolk, prawns, liver, meat, and dairy products. It is also worth noting that whilst eggs are high in cholesterol, they are also a good source of protein and fat-soluble vitamins, and therefore consumption of approximately 6 eggs per week is considered to be beneficial.
Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and are usually liquid at room temperature. Both of these unsaturated fats decrease LDL cholesterol when they replace saturated fat. Unsaturated fats are found in:
- Oils: olive, canola, peanut, sesame and more
- Nuts & Seeds: almonds, cashews, macadamias, pepitas and more
Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat that have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by preventing blood clots, maintaining a regular heartbeat and lowering blood pressure. Omega-3's are found in:
- Fatty Fish: herring, mackerel, tuna, sardines and salmon
- Oils: flaxseed, canola and soybean
- Nuts & Seeds: almonds, flaxseeds and walnuts
In our food, sodium is usually found in the form of salt, otherwise known as sodium chloride. It is recommended to limit intake of sodium as it has been shown to increase blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Sodium is found mainly in processed foods such as: chips, savoury and sweet biscuits, fast food, cereals, chocolate, processed meats and even bread.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables probably get the least amount of attention when it comes to heart disease; however, fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of components that act to combat the destructive actions of substances that cause damage to the heart and other parts of the body. Some of these beneficial properties/components include:
- Antioxidants: prevent damage occurring to blood vessel walls
- Soluble fibre: binds to cholesterol in the intestines preventing its absorption
- Anti-hypertensive components: reduce blood pressure
- Anti-inflammatory components: reduce inflammation and lower the risk of developing atherosclerosis
- National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council. Retrieved from http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/n55_australian_dietary_guidelines_130530.pdf
- National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council. Retrieved from http://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-guide-healthy-eating
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