Heart disease: Three dietary tips to keep the risks at bay

Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect a person’s heart. It includes blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects a person is born with (congenital heart defects). In addition to keeping active, most cases of heart disease can be prevented by following a heart-healthy diet. The advice can sometimes seem conflicting and inaccessible, however.

Patients and people get confused by all the conflicting advice

Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, cardiologist, Mayo Clinic

According to Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, resident cardiologist at Mayo Clinic, there isn’t a food that is going offer the best approach to heart health. The best defence lies in sticking to general dietary principles, he said.

Here are three easy and accessible dietary rules to ward off the risk of heart disease:

Keep it natural

As Dr Lopez-Jimenez explained: “Looking at everything we eat, the closer it is to mother nature – the fewer human hands, machines and additives have touched it – the better it is going to be for us.”

The combination of all the nutrients that come out of the ground, whether it be green, purple or blue emphasises a healthy pattern of eating and is actually more science-based than focusing on individual foods, he said.

People should generally avoid processed foods, according Dr Lopez-Jimenez. This will help people people to avoid hidden risks posed by added oils, salt and fried foods. Canned foods are also generally to be avoided, he said.

He added: “Patients and people get confused by all the conflicting advice but it is a lot simpler to think that a fresh or frozen vegetable is better for me than one that is all cooked up.”

Fruit and veg servings

“I do recommend at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and preferably nine servings per day of fruits and vegetables and include variety,” advised Dr Lopez-Jimenez.

Evidence confirms the health benefits of upping a person’s daily vegetable intake. One study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found that the risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by about a quarter in people who ate 800 grams of fruit and vegetables every day, compared with those who ate very little or no fruits and vegetables.

Keep it local

Localised produce will have retained more of their nutrients than imported produce, explained Dr Lopez-Jimenez.

“Even if they look nice there will have been a degradation of nutrients along the way,” he said.

For optional health benefits, people should also try and eat foods in season, he added.

Cut down on meat

As Dr Lopez-Jimenez explained: “You don’t have to be a vegetarian to be healthy but there is a lot of data that says getting more of our protein from plant-based foods such as legumes is also healthier.”

Why? Plant-based foods are full of fibre and different types of protein. They also avoid saturated fats – a major trigger of heart disease, he said.

Numerous evidence supports this advice. One large-scale meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association People who ate the most plant-based foods overall had a:

  • 16 percent lower risk of having a cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and other conditions;
  • 32 percent lower risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease and
  • 25 percent lower risk of dying from any cause compared to those who ate the least amount of plant-based foods.

Find out the best exercise to reduce the risk of heart disease here. 

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