We all know that eating fruit and vegetables and getting regular exercise is good for us, but many people underestimate the importance of a balanced diet to maintaining heart and circulatory health. With around 4 million males and 3.6 million females living with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK, the need to prevent heart conditions and their risk factors has never been greater.
The British Heart Foundation recommend a healthy and balanced diet to help reduce your risk of being affected by heart and circulatory conditions, or their risk factors. We understand that whether or not you are affected by a heart condition, making changes to your diet and lifestyle can feel intimidating, which is why we’ve put together a simple guide on the impact of nutrition on heart and circulatory health and the things you can do to enjoy a delicious and varied balanced diet.
Why is heart health important?
Good heart and circulatory health are essential to your overall wellbeing, and whilst it is better to prevent heart and circulatory conditions if you can, there are steps you can take to nurture your heart health and lead a healthier lifestyle. Whether you are young and want to embark on a healthier future, or perhaps you’ve been affected by a heart condition, there are endless benefits to making changes to your life for a healthier heart.
There are risk factors that make you more likely to be affected by heart and circulatory conditions, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, as well as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, an unhealthy diet and an inactive lifestyle. By making changes to your lifestyle, you can lower your risk of developing heart and circulatory conditions.
How can healthy eating help my heart?
Diet is linked to a number of risk factors that lead to heart and circulatory conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity. Eating a healthy diet is one of the easiest changes you can make to your lifestyle that can improve your heart health.
Eating foods high in saturated fat can increase your cholesterol levels, a fatty substance in your blood. If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can lead to a build-up of fatty material inside the walls of your blood vessels which narrows the arteries, increasing your risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
Eating too much salt in your diet can raise your blood pressure over time, high blood pressure increases your risk of developing heart and circulatory disease and around 50% of heart attacks are associated with high blood pressure.
Eating too much sugar is linked to a high-calorie diet which can lead to excess weight gain over time. Obesity can increase your risk of developing heart and circulatory conditions. Being overweight can also increase your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, adults with diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to develop heart and circulatory diseases.
Improving your diet and your eating habits can not only help prevent heart and circulatory disease, but it can also help you to live well with heart and circulatory conditions if you are already affected.
Foods to support heart and circulatory health
There is a common misconception that eating a healthy diet means flavourless food and cutting out your favourite meals. Eating well and looking after your heart doesn’t have to be boring, you can still have a vibrant and delicious diet whilst supporting your heart and circulatory health. The British Heart Foundation have a healthy eating recipe finder that contains hundreds of recipes from different cuisines to suit various dietary requirements and tastes, they even have a dessert section to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Eating well for your heart and circulatory health isn’t about single foods or nutrients, it’s about a pattern of eating that incorporates more of some foods and less of others. Developing a diet for a healthy heart can not only help prevent heart and circulatory diseases but also improves your overall wellbeing.
Fruits and vegetables
A healthy diet should include at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, containing a variety of each to contribute to a balanced diet. Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, dietary fibre, folate, vitamin C and A. Not only are fruit and vegetables nutritionally rich, but they are also low in saturated fat and calories, which means that they are a fantastic way to eat more and feel full without overindulging. Whether you choose fresh, frozen, dried or tinned, try to include fruit and vegetables in every meal.
Try to include a mix of different fruit and vegetables in your diet to contribute to good heart health, from leafy greens such as spinach and kale to cruciferous vegetables like cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower, there is something for everyone. By including fruit and vegetables in every meal, you will easily consume the recommended intake, even snacks can be nutritious – berries are rich in antioxidants and make the perfect sweet treat to satisfy cravings.
Although too much fat in your diet can raise your cholesterol, which increases your risk of heart disease, a small amount of fat is a staple part of a healthy diet. Fats are a source of energy, as well as being a carrier for fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and aiding their absorption into the body. The British Heart Foundation recommend including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet, a small amount helps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and provides essential fatty acids.
Monounsaturated fats are found in foods such as avocados, olives, olive oil, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts and nut spreads made from them. Polyunsaturated fats are found in fatty fish such as salmon, flaxseed, pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts and soya oil.
Protein is needed as part of a healthy diet, all cells and tissues contain protein, it helps your body repair cells and creates new ones. People often associate protein with meat, but there are many plant-based proteins that can be included as part of a balanced diet, whilst also contributing to heart health. Fatty red and processed meat is a source of saturated fat and too much-saturated fat can increase cholesterol levels. Processed meat, such as sausages, is often high in salt, a factor that is linked to increased blood pressure. High cholesterol and raised blood pressure are risk factors for heart and circulatory conditions.
The British Heart Foundation recommend choosing lean sources of protein which can include lean meat, fish (white and oily), eggs and some low-fat dairy as well as including some plant-based proteins, such as pulses, soya beans, quinoa, nuts, seeds, cereals and grains.
Carbohydrates: Starchy carbohydrates
Wholegrain and high fibre starchy foods provide us with a good source of energy, as well as providing a range of nutrients, such as fibre, calcium, vitamin B and iron. Wholegrain varieties of starchy foods also come with fibre, the fibre they contain also helps to aid healthy digestion and often keeping you feeling fuller for longer.
Swap out white versions of starchy foods such as pasta, bread, and rice for their wholegrain varieties. Choose wholemeal bread, brown rice or whole-wheat pasta and wholegrain breakfast cereals like porridge or muesli with no added sugar.
Helping you to live well
Over the last 60 years, the British Heart Foundation have funded lifesaving research into heart and circulatory conditions, as well as their risk factors. Their research has led to a better understanding of what we need to do to live well with a healthy heart, from prevention to treatment, they invest in a brighter future to end heartbreak forever.
If you think you would benefit from a little extra help looking after your heart health and eating a balanced diet, Helping Hands provides support that is so much more than assistance around the home, from preparing and cooking meals to building your confidence with a more active lifestyle, we’re here to empower you to live well. We understand that whether you’re living with a heart condition or simply embarking on a healthier lifestyle, changing aspects of your routines can seem daunting, which is why we’re here to make the transition as smooth as possible.
For more information, please call 0330 029 8699 or request a callback and we will call you.
Page reviewed by British Heart Foundation, on July 29, 2021