According to the World Health Organisation, 80% of lifestyle diseases can be prevented via healthy lifestyle changes and behaviours. This includes Heart Disease - Australia’s number one killer.
Apart from regular exercise, good quality sleep, stress management and avoiding body-damaging behaviours (e.g. smoking, binge drinking), diet plays the number one role in preventing and managing heart disease.
Leading on from my last blog post which outlined the heart health benefits of eating: a balanced-wholefood-plant-based-diet; moderate amounts of healthy fats; excluding unhealthy fats; and consuming lots of wholegrains; this post will give more detail on particular nutrients and foods...
4. Eat lots of different coloured vegetables and fruits
Not only are vegetables and fruits rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals, that support hearth health, but they also contain game-changing antioxidants and phytochemicals that protect your heart. By game-changing, I am talking about their actions on combating oxidative stress, the process by which free radicals damage cells including DNA.
Atherosclerosis (the major cause of heart disease) is a prominent ‘free radical’ disease. A number of studies have revealed that atherosclerosis may be a result of free radical reactions that involve diet derived fats and oils inducing endothelial (lining of blood vessel) cell injury. This then produces changes in the arterial walls, resulting in damaged blood vessels.
In other words, when there are more free radicals than antioxidants, free radicals can damage blood vessels via oxidative stress, and in turn contribute to heart disease in a significant way.
Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize free radicals, which means they help to prevent oxidative stress.
You can read more on this here. The principal antioxidants that come from the diet are specific types of vitamins, including: Vitamin E (e.g. avocados, almonds, sunflower seeds, leafy greenss); Vitamin C (e.g. paw paw, citrus, kiwifruit, berries, capsicum, leafy greens); and Beta-carotene (e.g. pumpkins, carrots, sweet potato, parsley, mango).
Therefore, by eating more vegetables and fruits, you will reduce oxidative stress and lower your risk for heart disease.
5. Increase your plant sterols
Plant sterols help to lower your cholesterol levels by blocking cholesterols absorption in the digestive tract. Sterols do this by binding to it, and in turn it's removed when a bowel motion is passed. Plant sterols are found in nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrains, vegetables, fruits and plant-based oils.
A wholefoods plant-based diet can provide about 500 milligrams (0.5g) of plant sterols per day. For example, vegetables contain between 50 to 370mg of sterols per kilogram (e.g. potatoes 51mg/kg and Brussels sprouts 370mg/kg). Vegetables with the highest sterol content (>300mg/kg) include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and dill. Fruits plant sterol content ranges from 116mg (banana) to 228mg (orange) per kilogram. Avocados contain significant amounts at 752mg per kilogram. Almonds and peanuts also contain considerable amounts at 1348mg and 1176mg per kilogram, respectively.
If your cholesterol levels are high, to get the maximum cholesterol lowering benefit from plant sterols, you will need to consume about 2000mg (2g) per day. This can be achieved by consuming certain foods that have been fortified with plant-sterols.
Studies show that 2-3 grams of plant sterols per day can decrease your LDL (bad) cholesterol by up to 10%
6. Meet your fibre requirements
Fibre is the part of plant foods that resists digestion, assists healthy bowel motions and feeds your good gut bacteria. Fibre comes in various forms, including prebiotic fibres, insoluble fibres and soluble fibres. Within the gut, soluble fibres (e.g. mucilage, pectins and gums) attract water and turn into gel-like textures. Soluble fibre helps you to feel full (aids weight management), improves blood glucose levels and lowers cholesterols levels. All of which reduce the risk of heart disease.
Research shows that about 10g of soluble fibre per day can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol by up to 5%.
Soluble fibre is found in oats, legumes, psyllium husk, chia seeds, flaxseeds, barley, fruits and vegetables.
You can get more soluble fibre in your diet by:
Adding 1Tbs of chia seeds to your cereal, yoghurt or smoothie
Consuming rolled oats in porridge, muesli or a smoothie
Adding chickpeas, lentils and/or barley to soups, stir-fries and curries
Using hummus as a spread in place of butter
Snacking on fruit
Getting 2cups of salad at lunch and 2 cups of vegetables at dinner