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Heart Health Starts in the Kitchen
Recently, a new position statement by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation states that up to 80% of cardiovascular disease such as heart disease, stroke and dementia can be largely prevented. The crux of this position is that food, and therefore nutrition as a whole, plays a pivotal in this process by reducing inflammation and promoting the ideal balance, or ratio, of blood lipids or ‘fats’ like LDL & HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Inflammation can be a bit tricky to understand. An effective analogy is to think of it as the slow burn that’s found in the embers of a fire that seems to have been extinguished but hasn’t. Inflammation can be caused by infection, physical damage to our blood vessels from high blood pressure, pollution, lifestyle factors including smoking, poor nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption and diets high in refined/added sugars, and trans fats.
The goal of diet therapy therefore is about improving the balance of blood lipids; higher levels of HDL, lower levels of triglycerides and LDL within a healthy range based on individual risk versus just focusing on LDL reduction alone while reducing inflammation at the same time.
Eating to Improve Lipid Ratios
Lower triglycerides by maintaining a healthy body weight, and increasing your intake of the omega-3 fats by including fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel or trout, and omega-3 fortified eggs.
Eat more fibre-rich, whole grains and grain products and include a lot of non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, green beans, Swiss chard, kale, zucchini and Bok choy for example. Reduce added or concentrated sugars found in sweetened beverages, candies, pies, fruit juices, pastries, dried fruit, or foods with added sugars.
Boost HDL levels by losing a modest amount of weight if you’re overweight. Contrary to what’s historically been recommended, getting a bit more saturated fat in your diet is good; it will boost HDL with little to no meaningful increase in LDL cholesterol levels. The low-fat or fat-free mantra is out; get more HDL-boosting saturated fat from foods like 2% milk, yogurt and Greek yogurt, 2% cottage cheese, and other cheeses, butter, coconut milk and oil, nuts and seeds, and nut and seed butters.
Eliminate HDL-lowering trans fats: avoid foods that contain ‘shortening’, ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ vegetable oils; make reading ingredient lists a habit.
Squashing inflammation is as close as your kitchen and grocery store.
✔ Eat more fruit: fresh, frozen or canned in juice. Try a small serving (4 oz or 125 ml) of 100% fruit juice, such as Concord grape, pomegranate, prune, cherry, black currant etc. Include orange-coloured fruits such as mango, cantaloupes and peaches.
✔ Berries of all kinds are a great option.
✔ Eat more vegetables of any kind; aim to include both dark green and orange vegetables daily: kale, spinach, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, carrots, collard greens etc.
✔ Eat more tomatoes and tomato products like tomato juice. Include cooked tomato products regularly: tomato paste, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes.
✔ Eat more whole grains; experiment with less common versions such as millet, buckwheat, quinoa, kamut, teff, or couscous.
✔ Eat low-mercury fish at least twice a week for the omega-3 fats. Check out Health Canada’s guide to better seafood choices.
✔ Consider an omega-3 supplement if you struggle to get marine-based omega-3 fats.
✔ Include plant based sources of omega-3 fats daily; walnuts, organic edamame, ground flax and chia seeds, hemp seeds/oil.
✔ Drink green, white and rooibos tea and yes, coffee for a rich source of antioxidants (limit to 2-3 small sizes, i.e. 8 oz or 250 ml, per day).
✔ Eat whole nuts and seeds, olives, extra virgin olive and avocado oil.
✔ Eat more mushrooms of all kinds, or consider dried mushrooms and make a ‘tea’ with them.
✔ Include liberal use of dried or fresh herbs and spices.
✔ Exercise, this helps the body to produce naturally occurring anti-inflammatory defenses.
✔ If you’re overweight, consider losing some as extra body fat produces pro-inflammatory compounds and drives a lot of inflammation-based chronic diseases.
Doug Cook, RDN, MHSc is a Registered Dietitian and Integrative & Functional Nutritionist. He is the coauthor of “Nutrition for Canadians for Dummies” and “The Complete Leaky Gut Health & Diet Book .” www.dougcookrd.com