Nutritionist giving consultation to patient with healthy fruit and vegetable, Right nutrition and diet concept

by Laurie Barker Jackman RD

February is Heart Month, making it a great time to talk about the importance of cardiovascular health and what we can do to reduce our risk of heart disease. Heart disease affects approximately 2.4 million Canadian adults and is the second leading cause of death in Canada. The good news is up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through healthy lifestyle behaviours such as a healthy diet and being physically active.

Here are our top 5 tips to improve your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease:

  1. Make vegetables and fruit the star of your plate!

Eating more vegetables and fruit will not only help control blood sugars, manage weight, and improve your immune system but can also keep your heart healthy.

  • Vegetables and fruit have soluble fibre which is known to lower LDL (your ‘lousy’ cholesterol).
  • Vegetables and fruit are loaded with vitamins and minerals associated with heart health. Choose dark green and orange produce for a healthy dose of vitamins C, E, beta carotene and B vitamins (folic acid and B6).
  • Want another reason to fill half your plate?  Vegetables and fruit are rich in antioxidants. They protect cells from damage caused by free radicals (i.e., air pollutants, cigarette smoke). Think of the rainbow when choosing your produce to reap these benefits.

2. Go for whole grains.

Whole grains contain all 3 parts of the kernel – the bran, endosperm and germ ensuring they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre. It is known that people who eat 3 or more servings of whole grains per day have a 30% decreased risk of developing heart disease. Fill ¼ of your plate at each meal with whole grains.  Some examples are oats, brown rice, quinoa, popcorn, and bulgur. 

TIP! When choosing cereals or bread, always check the ingredient list to see “100% whole grain” to be sure the product is in fact a whole grain. 

3. Eat a variety of protein foods.

To benefit your heart health, choose protein foods that come from plants every day. Plant-based protein foods contain more fibre and less saturated fat. Choose legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas at least 4 times a week to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

SNACK IDEA! A great snack for a healthy heart is about ¼ cup of nuts paired with a piece of fruit or some cut up vegetables.

4. Choose healthy fats.

The type of fat that you eat is more important for your health than the amount of fat you eat.  Choosing foods containing mostly healthy fats (unsaturated fats) can help lower your risk of heart disease. Healthy fats are found in nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocados, and vegetable oils.

DYK?  Avocados not only provide healthy fats, but they are also high in fibre, providing 7 grams of fibre per ½ an avocado.

5. Limit your salt intake.

A diet high in sodium can increase your blood pressure, which may lead to heart disease. The main source of sodium for Canadians are highly processed foods (i.e. fast foods, hot dogs, chips, cookies, frozen pizzas, deli meats). Try to limit your intake of these and decrease the amount of salt you use in cooking.

By following these tips, you can make significant progress towards improving your heart health. Reduce your risk of heart disease further by combining these with being smoke-free, staying physically active, limiting alcohol, and having regular medical check-ups.

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