Submitted By Richard Adams
It’s been said that the human heart is the most important muscle in the body. Bearing in mind the fact that heart disease is currently the number one killer in the developed world this might not be far from the truth. The good news is that keeping your heart in good condition needn’t be rocket science.
Two of the biggest changes we can all make are to eat better and to exercise more. While they’re both important, it is arguably our diets that are most easily changed. In this guide we’ll therefore be looking at some simple and efficient changes you can make to protect your cardiovascular system…
Reduce Your Intake of Saturated Fats
One factor that virtually every cardiologist can agree on is that saturated fat can raise your cholesterol levels, which in turn puts you at greater risk of heart disease. Studies comparing diet with the risk of heart disease have shown that every additional 10 grams of saturated fat consumed per day leads to a 0.03mm increase in the thickness of artery walls; a well-known metric used to measure the appearance of atherosclerosis.
Luckily, not all fats are bad, and many experts believe that unsaturated fats are positively beneficial in your diet. Generally speaking most saturated fats are solid at room temperature, so to keep your heart healthy aim to reduce your consumption of fatty meat, butter, cream and cheese. Some plant oils such as coconut oil and palm oil are also high in saturated fats.
In contrast great sources of healthy unsaturated fats include oily fish, avocados and many nuts and so these should be incorporated regularly into your diet.
Increase Your Fiber Intake
Fiber doesn’t just “keep you regular” – it has also been found to help control your cholesterol levels, and in doing so to help protect you from heart problems. Scientists think that it does this by binding to cholesterol in the food that you eat, so that it is excreted rather than being absorbed into the blood.
This positive impact of fiber on heart disease has been shown time and again in rigorous scientific analysis. For example, one group of scientists followed over 300,000 people for a period of ten years, cross-referencing their intake of fiber with cardiac events. They found that consuming an additional 10 grams of fiber per day was associated with a 14% decrease in the risk of serious heart problems. Indeed, some studies have found evidence that fiber consumption has an even bigger effect on heart health than diets that are high in saturated fats.
So what fiber should you be eating? Much of the research to date has focused on wholegrains, which are known to not only be high in fat but also lead to a slow, steady release of glucose into the bloodstream, meaning more balanced blood sugar. One group of scientists, for example, found that people who consumed 2 servings of wholegrains per day were 21% less likely to suffer from heart disease than people not regularly consuming them. Other great sources of fiber include brown bread and whole meal pasta, together with a whole host of different fruits and vegetables.
At the same time, it isn’t always easy to consume enough fiber with today’s hectic lifestyles. For these individuals the easiest solution is to consider a fiber supplement. Popular options with impressive results demonstrated include psyllium husk, inulin and guar gum that can be bought in powder or tablet form.
Eat More Garlic
Cholesterol is a normal part of life, and in moderation it is crucial to our survival. Among other things, for example, cholesterol is a key component that makes up the walls of every cell in our bodies.
Problems arise either when the delicate balance between LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and HDL (“good”) cholesterol fails, or when LDL cholesterol is attacked by free radicals in the environment around us.
Experts believe that garlic plays an important role in preventing this chemical reaction that turns LDL cholesterol into OxLDL – a far more dangerous version – which can lead to atherosclerosis and, ultimately, heart disease. In doing so, garlic helps to protect our cardiovascular system.
Focus on Oily Fish
Omega 3 oils are positively associated with reduced inflammation and, as a result, a lessened chance of circulatory problems.
A study tracked almost 85,000 nurses for a period of 14 years. During this time regular questionnaires were completed on diet, while health checks recorded any cardiovascular risk. The study found that the more fish the women consumed, the lower their odds of suffering from coronary heart disease.
The impacts of dietary omega 3 oils have been borne out in numerous other experiments. One experiment provided healthy male volunteers with either 14 grams of fish oil per day or a placebo for a period of six weeks. The experts found cholesterol levels fell by an average of 22% in those participants supplementing with omega 3.
Most health experts recommend that to keep your heart healthy we should all be eating at least two portions of fish per week, with at least one of these being “oily” fish like mackerel or salmon. For people who don’t have the time or inclination to regularly cook fresh fish, studies suggest that fish oil in supplement form offers similar benefits to the heart, though these do of course omit some of the other beneficial nutrients found in whole fish.
Take Plant Sterols
Plant sterols are naturally-occurring compounds that mimic the overall shape of cholesterol in the body. As a result, plant sterols compete with cholesterol in the body, cutting down the amount of cholesterol that binds to cholesterol receptors. The impact of plant sterols can be considerable. Studies have shown, for example, that an intake of just 2 grams of sterols reduces LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels by an average of 10%. Even better, plant sterols are regularly available in supplement form, so it is easy to top up your levels on a daily basis.
Reduce Salt Intake
The human body maintains a careful balance of sodium and potassium – two chemicals that we think of more commonly as “salt”. This balance is crucial as it allows your kidneys to draw excess water out of the body and dispose of it in the form of urine. Excess salt in your diet, however, upsets this balance. As the kidneys are unable to extract water efficiently the end result can be raised blood pressure (hypertension). As you might imagine, this effect can also damage the kidneys when taken to excess.
High blood pressure is known to be a factor in all sorts of unpleasant health conditions. For example, one study on the impact of high blood pressure found that it was responsible for 62% of strokes and 49% of heart disease.
At the same time, studies have looked at the impact of reducing salt intake on the risk of cardiovascular disease. One investigation involved 744 participants who reduced the salt intake by roughly 25% for a period of 18 months. Comparing those patients that had reduced their salt intake with the control group who had not, the risk of developing heart disease reduced by a quarter simply by controlling salt. In other words you want to protect your heart; it therefore makes sense to minimize your salt intake.
Keeping your heart healthy doesn’t need to be rocket science. While you should also consider including regular exercise in your weekly regime there are a host of simple dietary changes that can be made. Cut down on salt and unhealthy fats while bulking up on fiber and oily fish and you’ll be well on your way to long-term heart health. Lastly, as we have seen, supplements like plant sterols, psyllium or cod liver oil capsules can give you a little extra boost when you need it.
– This guest post was written by the expert nutritionists at Simply Supplements, who provide a wide range of different supplements including psyllium husk capsules. Click the link to learn more about fiber supplements.