What does Heart Health Really Mean when it Comes to Food?
As the saying by Hippocrates goes, “Let food be thy medicine, let medicine be thy food”. Since February is American Heart Month, I thought it would be great to talk a little bit more in-depth about heart health and the foods that support it.
When it comes to food and heart health, there are lots of things to consider. For this article, I’ll be talking about eating a balanced and nutritious diet that supports a healthy cardiovascular system. This includes consuming foods that are low in saturated and trans fats, high in fiber, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids. A heart-healthy diet can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and the risk of developing heart disease and other chronic health conditions. Alternatively, consuming foods high in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars can increase the risk of developing heart disease and other chronic health conditions. These foods may include highly processed and packaged foods, fried foods, fast food, sugary drinks and foods high in salt.
Now, there are also some myths out there about heart health and heart disease. According to Harvard Health, these include things like taking it easy, that you can eat anything if you’re on the right medication, you can lower the risk with vitamins/supplements, that’s it’s a ‘man’s disease’ and more. While some of these have some truth to them, eating the right foods CAN have an impact to not only your heart health but can also prevent things like diabetes.
In addition to diet, regular physical activity is another important factor in maintaining heart health. Regular exercise can help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Maybe it’s as simple as a daily walk, where over time you add small weights or take routes with minor inclines. Stress management, good sleep habits, avoiding smoking and watching your alcohol intake are also important for heart health, along with attention to portion sizes and avoiding overeating, which can contribute to weight gain and other health problems. Eating mindfully, focusing on hunger and fullness cues, and avoiding distractions during meals can all help with portion control.
Let’s come back to the food (my favorite part!). Choosing (or finding) what to eat to stay healthy can sometimes be a challenge. Our busy schedules can sometimes get in the way but there are solutions that make it easy. From your standard leafy greens to fruits, nuts, beans, avocados and more, there are plenty of options to grab and go (from Mettacasa)! Aside from tomatoes and fish, this article (and below) highlights some great options for every kitchen. You may be wondering why I say no tomatoes and fish? Well for one, I’m vegetarian and two, tomatoes are packed with an alkaloid called solanine. Some research shows that excessive consumption of tomatoes can result in swelling and pain in the joints. They’re also considered a part of the nightshade family of vegetables and can potentially impact digestive health, kidneys and cause acid reflux or allergic reactions.
More details on specific foods that are particularly beneficial for heart health include:
Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are good sources of healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants, all of which can contribute to lower cholesterol levels and improved heart health.
Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and contain many antioxidants that protect against heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Whole grains: Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat bread are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and improve overall health.
Legumes: Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans are a good source of plant-based protein, fiber, and antioxidants, and can help lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health.
In contrast, foods to avoid or limit in a heart-healthy diet include:
Saturated and trans fats: Saturated and trans fats are found in many processed and fried foods, and can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
Sodium: Sodium is found in many packaged and processed foods, and can contribute to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease.
Added sugars: Added sugars are found in many sugary drinks, desserts, and snacks, and can increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
A healthy heart is all about making smart food choices and eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods that support cardiovascular health, while also complimenting them with some sort of exercise and movement. There are lots of tools out there to help you in your journey to a healthier heart and recently, the CDC release some toolkits that may help people learn how to control their blood pressure, manage their cholesterol and blood glucose levels, move more, eat healthier, stress less, work with their health care team and quit smoking.
To learn more about the ingredients we cook with at Mettacasa or to get help in cooking easy 5-ingredient meals, reach out to me for a free consultation or visit us to grab some vegan / vegetarian food to-go. Let’s figure out how to make it easy to look at the end of your fork and get excited about what you’re putting into your body.
To your health and happiness,
~Sam, Founder of Mettacasa
*Disclaimer: As always, please consult your doctor before trying any new supplements as many can interact with OTC and prescribed medications. I am not a medical doctor and do not diagnose illness or prescribe treatments of any kind, all information provided is to enlighten and educate on various health options. I am a nutritional consultant and will make suggestions relating to nutrition but none of the information offered here is intended to replace any program that your chosen health professional has prescribed for you. Please make sure to consult with your healthcare professional before adopting new nutritional regimens.