Eating for a Healthy Heart
A heart-healthy diet in a nutshell
A third of the food you eat each day should be fruit and vegetables. The more colours you include on your plate, the more different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you'll get, as well as fibre and water. A portion is roughly a handful (80g). Fresh, tinned, frozen, in juice or as smoothies, all count so add those portions to soups, stews, puddings or have as a side dish.
You need a little fat in your diets to give you energy and also provide some important fat-soluble vitamins, however fat is high in calories, so eating too much can lead to weight gain and put our heart under pressure. What's more, the type of fat you eat can also affect your cholesterol levels so replace the 'bad' fats with 'good' fats.
‘Good’ fats promote healthy cholesterol levels and can reduce inflammation in your arteries. They include mono-unsaturated fats, found in olive and rapeseed oil, almonds and avocados, and polyunsaturated fats that provide us with essential fatty acids such as omega 3 fats in oily fish, walnuts and rapeseed and flaxseed oils.
'Bad' fats include saturated and hydrogenated fats. Eating too much saturated fat increases LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels that increase the risk of developing heart disease. Foods high in saturated fats include bacon, ham, pork, lamb, butter, hard margarine, hard cheese and whole milk. Hydrogenated fats, also known as 'trans fats', are found in some processed foods and should be avoided as they raise LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and lower HDL ‘good’ cholesterol levels.
Eating at least one portion of oily fish a week is good for heart health, especially as oily fish is a good source of omega-3 'good' fats. So add fresh tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon, pilchards and shellfish like oysters and mussels to your weekly menu. Remember that while tinned tuna is a good source of protein and other nutrients it doesn't contain omega-3, so try tinned salmon in your sandwiches instead or go for grilled fresh tuna.
Eating too much salt can lead to a raised blood pressure, which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Adults should eat less than 6g of salt per day, that's around a teaspoon; children should have even less. 75% of our daily salt intake comes processed foods so watch out for salt hidden in foods like cereals, ready meals and even bread by reading the food labels.
Download our 'High blood pressure and the heart' leaflet to find out more about the effect of salt.
Alcohol is high in calories (almost as much per gram as fat) and too much of it can lead to weight gain and a higher blood pressure. You are also more likely to eat more and less healthily after drinking too much, spelling bad news for your heart in the long term. So stick to the recommended units: 2-3 units a day for men and 1-2 units for women; watch those generous glass sizes; check the alcohol content on bottles to find lower strength drinks and alternate with a soft drink, lower calorie one or have a shandy when out.
Add a Meditteranean flavour to your diet so you can reap the well-known benefits for your heart . The key is in the combinations of foods that ensure a healthy balance of good fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and satiating protein. Plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables, seafood, dairy products, legumes, nuts and other plant foods. Find out more about our 'Mediterranean Diet Revisited' conference in association with the Fishmongers.