5 types of foods that can protect the heart

September 1, 2023

This article is provided by Heart & Stroke.       

Try these dietary choices to support your heart health

Your heart health is influenced by what foods you consume on a regular basis. Improving your diet can make a real difference to your cardiovascular system. Almost 80% of premature heart attacks and strokes can be prevented through lifestyle changes

If you want to switch up your diet to better care for your heart, know that there’s no need to deprive yourself! Instead, consider adding more healthy but delicious foods to your household menu. Start small, focus on choosing healthy foods you like and making it as fun and flavourable as you can. 

Here are five heart-friendly food choices that you can fit into any eating pattern

1. Foods with Fibre 

Fibre is not just about keeping your digestion on the up-and-up. Fibre has heart-health power: people who eat three or more servings of whole grain foods daily have a 30% lower risk of developing heart disease compared to people who rarely eat them. Fibre is found in a variety of food sources such as whole grain foods like oatmeal, protein foods like beans, vegetables like carrots and broccoli, and fruits like berries and apples.   

Ideally, you want to get about 25 to 38 grams of fibre a day, but most Canadians eat only about half of that! Vegetables and fruits are one of the best ways to up your fibre (and other great vitamins and minerals) and they come in many flavours, textures and colours to keep your meals and snacks interesting.  

Tips: Fill a quarter of your plate with whole grain foods and half of your plate with vegetables. If you love pasta, try whole wheat pasta or extra-fibre pastas available at grocery stores. Look for words such as “100% whole grain” when choosing foods such as bread. 

2. Different sources of protein

Aim to get high quality protein from a variety of food sources. Getting enough protein can reduce your risk of stroke and can also play a role in decreasing the risk of falls and frailty as you age. Protein is found in meats, poultry, fish, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, and some bread products.   

Protein recommendations are based on body size (about 0.8g/kg body weight) so for someone who weighs 150lbs (68kg) that would be about 55 grams of protein per day. Choosing more plant-based sources of protein such as legumes, nuts and seeds, and other protein options which are lower in saturated fats such as fish, poultry, and lean meats will help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. When choosing lean meats, try to keep your portion sizes to about 100-125g (the size of the palm of your hand). 

Tips: Fill a quarter of your plate with protein foods at each meal and try to eat fish twice a week. Fish is a protein source packed with healthy oils and nutrients. Check out these delicious and cardiovascular-friendly fish recipes.  

3. Foods with healthy fats

Don’t get too busy trimming all the fat from your diet. Some fats are great for your heart and brain health. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from foods such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and fish actually help your heart health - and especially omega-3 fats, like those found in fatty fish and flax seed. 

As you choose a more heart-friendly diet, consider reducing how much saturated fat you eat. Saturated fats can increase your cholesterol levels (that’s LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol). This type of fat is found in fatty cuts of beef, poultry with skin on, lard, butter and higher fat cheese, but the majority of saturated fat in our diet actually comes from ultra-processed foods (e.g bakery products like muffins and cakes, fast foods like french fries and pizza). Trans fats from processed foods are also not good, but the good news is that companies can no longer add them to processed foods in Canada.  

Tips: Choose foods and oils with more heart healthy fats such as avocados, olive and canola oil, flax seed and cold-water fish like trout and salmon.   

4. Foods lower in salt (sodium)

For some people, eating foods with too much salt can lead to increased blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease and stroke. On average, adults in Canada consume over 2700mg/day and we only need about half of that! Because Canadian diets are generally so high in salt many people can benefit from reducing their intake.   

Hypertension Canada recommends reducing sodium to no more than 2000mg/day to prevent and manage high blood pressure. About 80% of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods so cutting back on those is always a good idea.  

Tips:  When buying packaged foods, check out the labels and choose options with less than ≤5% daily value of sodium per serving. Or choose more of the fresh foods without labels such as whole foods like vegetables and fruit, simple whole grains, lentils and beans. 

5. Plant-based foods

One way to increase the amount of beneficial nutrients that we’ve talked about above (fibre, protein and healthy fats), is to eat more plant-based foods! A plant-based diet helps reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels and lowers the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and heart disease. Choose foods based around vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans and pulses, especially those that you cook from scratch. 

Tips: You can enjoy the benefits of a diet containing fewer animal products even if a vegetarian or vegan eating pattern isn’t for you. Try Meatless Monday or eat plant-based a few times a week. Here are some meatless mains that you might want to test out. 

On your journey to heart health and a heart-friendly diet, keep these food choices in mind for your meals and snacks – Foods with fibre, protein and healthy fats, particularly those that are plant-based and lower in salt. 

To learn more, check out articles from Heart & Stroke  

·       Whole-grain secrets

·       Protein

·       Fats and oils 

·       Reduce salt

·       What is a plant-based diet?  

·       Heart-friendly recipes

For more personalized advice, consult with a Registered Dietitian or other qualified medical professional.  

© Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2023. | ™The heart and / Icon on its own and the heart and / Icon followed by another icon or words are trademarks of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada used under license.

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