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Eat Smart For a Healthy Heart

POSTED Monday 10 February 2020

For National Heart month, our UoB Sport & Fitness Nutrition interns Sam, Katie and Jonny explore some of the nutritional components which have an effect on heart health, to help us make more informed food choices. They talked to us about the importance of good heart health, and explain the positive and negative impacts food and drink can have on it.

Importance of good heart health

Everyone knows the importance of the heart in the body, so it is crucial we look after it through the choices we make in our lifestyle such as our diet and physical activity levels. Heart disease accounts for nearly one third of all deaths worldwide. The heart is no different to any other muscle in the sense that increased exercise levels will lead to it becoming stronger and healthier. However, just as important as exercise are the foods we eat in our diet.

Things to avoid

Foods high in saturated fats raise cholesterol levels, and excessive consumption can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

Foods high in saturated fat include: milk and white chocolate; fatty meats; processed meats; butter and margarine; and full fat dairy products.

Products are considered to be high in saturated fat if they contain 5g or more of saturated fat per 100g. Lean meats and lower fat dairy products are lower in saturated fats – making the switch to leaner meats and low fat dairy products is an easy way to lower your risk of heart disease.

The consumption of salt causes the body to hold onto more water. Therefore, having a diet with a high salt intake causes extra water to be stored in the body, which increases blood volume and leads to increased blood pressure. This can lead to increased strain on the arteries and the heart, and could result in a heart attack!

It is therefore recommended limiting the salt levels in your diet – the recommended daily allowance of salt for adults is 6g.

A product is considered to contain high levels of salt if it has more than 1.5g salt or 0.6g sodium per 100g.

Long-term heavy drinking also leads to an increased risk of heart disease through increasing blood pressure and weakening the heart muscle. Binge drinking also has the potential to make your heart beat irregularly, which can alter blood pressure and increase the risk of heart attack.

Try to drink in moderation to lower your risk of developing heart-related conditions.


Nutrition to promote good heart health

But it’s not all bad when it comes to food and heart health! There are plenty of foods that once incorporated into your diet will have a positive effect on your heart.

Top tip: try to eat foods in their natural form as found in the ground or grown, as they are likely to be more healthy.

Unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated, are considered the healthier fat option.

Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil and nuts and can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Polyunsaturated fats can be broken down into subcategories: omega-6 fatty acids, found in soybean oil and corn oil; and omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts, seeds and oily fish. With western diet today the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in our diet is changing to a more omega 6 rich diet. It is important this ratio is balanced and increasing your intake of oily fish (salmon, tuna and mackerel) and adding foods such as chia seeds into your diet will help this.

Switching up your carbohydrate options to include more wholegrain can have a positive effect on your heart. Whole grains are good sources of fibre and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health.

This can be easily done by eating whole grain bread and pasta, which will also help reduce your sugar intake as white bread and pasta contain larger amounts of sugar.

Top Tips

  1. Switch to lean meats and lower fat dairy options
  2. Avoid adding extra salt to your food
  3. Be aware of high salt contents in ready meals
  4. Always try to eat foods in their natural form as found in the ground or grown and they are likely to be more healthy.

Reading the food label can help you make healthier food choices, as you’re able to pick things with lower fat/salt levels. Follow U0B Sport & Fitness Nutrition on Instagram for weekly tips and tricks to improve your nutrition habits.


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