Your heart is constantly working. The average adult heart beats 72 times a minute equivalent to 100,000 times a day, 3,600,000 times a year, and 2.5 billion times during a lifetime. Every day, your heart creates enough energy to drive a truck over 20km – over a lifetime, that is equivalent to going to the moon and back!
Staggeringly, one in three women die of heart disease and it is still the number one killer in Australia with an estimated 1.2 million Australians being affected by some form of heart, stroke or vascular disease.
Some of the most basic strategies to protect your heart include lifestyle changes to reduce heart disease risk. Staying within a healthy weight range, exercising regularly, enjoying a healthy, balanced diet as well as not smoking are just a few.
Love your heart with these 11 nutrients for heart health.
1. Soluble fibre
Peas, beans, and lentils (as well as grains such as oats and barley) contain soluble fibre, which can reduce low-density lipoprotein or "bad cholesterol." Apples, pears, and avocados are also rich in soluble fibre.
Experts recommend women consume 25g of dietary fibre per day and men 30g. Find practical ways to increase your fibre intake here. Choose porridge oats, wholegrains, peas, baked beans, lentils, baked potatoes, vegetables, and fruits.
2. Omega-3 fats
Omega-3 fats are essential fatty acids that help to maintain good cardiovascular health. The Heart Foundation recommends all Australians try to put fish on their dish 2–3 times a week (including oily fish) as part of a heart-healthy diet; this provides around 250–500 mg of marine-sourced omega-3s (eicosapentaenoic acid - EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid - DHA) per day. Studies show that consuming two or more salmon servings per week is associated with a 30% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Omega-3 fats reduce blood cholesterol, blood triglycerides and inflammation which are underlying causes of cardiovascular disease. Choose salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring at least twice a week.
If you do not eat fish, the Heart Foundation recommends at least 500mg DHA + EPA per day for children and adults.
Other important sources of omega-3 fats can be flaxseed and hemp seeds. Flaxseeds contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) only. The body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, but conversion is only around 5-15%
3. Unsaturated fats
Olive oil and nuts, including pecans, walnuts, and almonds, provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as do avocadoes.
Research has shown eating one avocado every day for a week reduced LDL ('bad cholesterol') and triglyceride levels associated with heart disease, by an average of 17% while HDL ('good cholesterol') levels increased.
Delicious dark chocolate is rich in heart-healthy flavonoids; eating it regularly may help reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease. Flavanols in dark chocolate affect two major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This helps reduce inflammation and lower heart disease risk. Aim for around 20–30 g of dark, fair trade chocolate per day.
Apples are a natural source of quercetin, a plant-derived flavonoid that contains natural anti-inflammatory properties. Other good sources are onions, broccoli, capers, citrus fruits, cherries, green tea, coffee, and red wine.
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard contain large amounts of a B-group vitamin called folate. Folate helps maintain healthy levels of the amino acid (a type of protein) called homocysteine. People with raised homocysteine levels may be at higher risk of heart attacks, blood vessel diseases and stroke.
7. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is a naturally occurring antioxidant that exists in almost every cell of the human body (the active form is ubiquinol because it is ubiquitous throughout the body). The body makes CoQ10, but produces less with age. While CoQ10 provides energy for every cell in your body, heart muscles contain the highest amounts. Some cholesterol lowering medications affect CoQ10 production. Beef, organ meats such as liver and kidney, soy oil, sardines and mackerel contain CoQ10.
Lycopene is the plant antioxidant that gives tomatoes, watermelons, and pink grapefruit their red/pink colour and consumption is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Lycopene may help to lower the risk of developing or prematurely dying from heart disease.
Each body organ, including your heart, needs magnesium for normal functioning.
Changes in the amounts of different minerals in your blood can affect many tissues, including your heart. Although your body only contains small amounts of magnesium, having too much or too little can affect the rhythm of the heart.
Studies show that magnesium reduces blood pressure. Find magnesium in walnuts, spinach, and dark chocolate.
Polyphenols help increase nitric oxide production in our body, which causes blood vessels to relax and dilate, thereby lowering blood pressure.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed eating about a cup of mixed berries daily for eight weeks increased levels of "good" HDL cholesterol and lowered blood pressure and increasing levels of ‘good’ cholesterol.
Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, bilberries plus beetroot are polyphenol packed.
Resveratrol helps to reduce blood clotting and enhances antioxidant and nitric oxide production leading to lower blood pressure.
Dark chocolate, red wine and grape juice contain resveratrol although processing and pasteurisation reduce grape juice content. You cannot get enough resveratrol from the diet (you would need to eat and drink unhealthy amounts) so you may want to consider a supplement.
As well as a healthy diet full of healthy macro and micronutrients, it is important that your live a healthy lifestyle.
Stub it out
Avoiding tobacco is one of the best things you can do to protect your heart and blood vessels.
Blast belly fat
Belly fat is different from other fat types. Called visceral fat, belly fat coats your internal organs, triggering inflammation and raising blood pressure and unhealthy blood fats. Exercise, healthy diet and cutting down on excess alcohol can help.
Get your heart rate pumping
Vigorous exercise helps to work your heart and lungs. Choose something you love, and it will not be a chore.
Experts recommend 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity; or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week.
If you have not exercised for a while or are on medication, check with your health professional first.
Try yoga to help bust stress while improving balance strength and flexibility. It may also help to reduce heart disease risk. And get adequate sleep – try setting a sleep and wake time and stick to it if you can.
Enjoy alcohol in moderation
Moderate consumption can be heart-healthy but can damage the heart when overconsumed. But stick to the recommended guidelines. Find out more here.
Watch your salt intake
Processed and takeaway foods are overloaded with salt. Try cooking from fresh when you can and flavour foods with herbs and spices or a salt substitute. Talk to your health professional for tailored advice.
Get your health checked
Being aware of your risk is the most empowering thing you can do for your heart health. Be sure to see your GP regularly and have your blood pressure checked.
Get your dental health checked
See your dentist for regular check-ups since bacteria that cause gum disease can enter the blood if unchecked, which has been linked with heart disease.
Australian Dietary Guidelines: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/