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11 Steps to a Healthier Heart

4th September 2017 by Jess

Our nutritionist Jess walks us through some lifestyle and nutrition choices you can make to help keep your heart healthy.

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When it comes to taking care of your heart, from a nutrition point of view there are a number of things you can do.

Whilst genetics do play a role in heart health, like with most areas of your health, environment, nutrition and lifestyle play a huge role.

How you nourish your body and how you move your body day-to-day contribute to heart health in an immense way.

Jess, graze nutritionist
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INCREASE YOUR FIBRE

Strap yourselves in, we've got some health studies for you...

Did you know increased dietary fibre intake has been shown to be protective against a number of cardiovascular disease risk factors? The results of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked fibre intake with reductions in the risks of overweight and elevated waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and homocysteine.

It also illustrated the significance of increasing fibre intake from various dietary sources such as vegetables, cereals, fruit, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Variety was found to be key.

Research indicates that 25 grams total dietary fibre per day is the minimum intake required to attain a significant protective effect against cardiovascular disease, and that total dietary fibre intakes of 30-35 grams/day will likely provide an even greater protective effect.

Nourishing higher fibre foods include vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans and lower-sugar fruits, such as berries.

shop snacks that are a source of fibre
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INCREASE HEART PROTECTIVE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

Along with exercise, weight loss, and stress reduction, it's well known that omega-3 fatty acids can improve long-term heart health. Adding omega 3 fatty acids to your diet may even reduce the risk of developing irregular heart rhythm or suffering from sudden cardiac arrest.

Eat anti-inflammatory foods like fish including salmon, sardines and herring, as well as flaxseeds, walnuts and pecans. Some fats actually benefit your heart by improving your overall cholesterol profile.

the benefits of pecans

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AVOID PROCESSED FOODS AND DRINKS

Liquid-sugar drinks are among the biggest contributors to obesity, diabetes and heart disease according to research, so swap the bottles and packets for natural, whole and minimally processed foods and drinks.

Try to skip the fizzy drinks and fruit juices which impact sugar and fat metabolism, contributing to fatty liver.

recipe: chia fruit frescas
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REGULATE YOUR BLOOD SUGAR

Research shows that heart disease and blood sugar imbalances go hand in hand, so keeping blood sugar levels on an even keel is key.

Including good fats from nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish, as well as protein is key. Couple carbohydrates with protein or fat to slow the glucose release and avoid processed sugars and refined carbohydrates where you can!

how to cut out sugar
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THINK COLOUR AND PLANTS

Plant-based eating has been proven to be powerful for the human body. By increasing your intake of whole foods, naturally you will up your nutrients and phytonutrients.

Loaded with cellular protecting vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients – they not only benefit heart health, but overall, form part of a disease-protective diet.

Aim for at least six to eight servings of colourful vegetables a day and one to two of fruit.

what you should know about fruit & veg
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CUT OUT TRANS FATS

Trans and hydrogenated fats are particularly damaging to the lining of the blood vessels. They're typically found in many baked products like biscuits, cakes, crackers and packaged muesli bars.

Instead use extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil or coconut oil, long known to be beneficial for heart health.

We guarantee all the snacks from the graze kitchen are naturally trans fat free.

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FOLIC ACID

Folic acid is a derivative of folate (an essential B vitamin) and is an essential nutrient which has been linked to numerous health benefits. It's important enough that many governments require grains to be fortified with folate/folic acid to provide their citizens with regular, daily access to this important vitamin.

Folic acid has also been linked to heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) published an article last year exploring the decrease in congenital heart defects associated with folic-acid supplementation and folic-acid-fortified foods. This connection between the B vitamin and heart health suggests that folic acid can work preventatively with regards to stroke and myocardial infarction, otherwise known as a heart attack!

Folic acid foods include leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, beans, nuts and seeds, lentils, breads, cereals, rice and pastas.

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AVOID OR REDUCE ALCOHOL INTAKE

Too much alcohol can raise inflammation, which is associated with heart disease and many other chronic diseases. Alcohol can also raise triglycerides in some individuals which can contribute to fatty liver disease and disrupt your blood glucose regulation.

Overall as a population we drink too much, though there is evidence to suggest that red wine is protective for heart health, in moderation! Regularly consuming alcohol can make us feel lousy and the knock on effect it can have on our choices it well documented (and experienced)!

Current “recommendations” suggest both women and men should have at least two alcohol-free days every week, no more than two standard drinks a day for women and no more than 10 standard drinks per week; and three standard drinks a day for men and no more than 15 standard drinks a week.

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MOVE YOUR BODY REGULARLY

If exercise was a pill, we’d be prescribed it by our doctors! Exercise and movement is one of the most effective ways to improve heart health and it’s FREE for us all to enjoy. Moving our bodies regularly improves mood, cardiovascular fitness and lean muscle which impacts our blood sugar regulation and inflammation.

Move your body in a way that you enjoy, as this will lead to exercise being a regular occurrence.

how to actually go to the gym
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GET YOUR VITAMIN D

The link between low vitamin D levels and poor metabolic health, including vascular health is well researched.

Getting your vitamin D levels checked with your GP is a great way to ensure your levels are optimal as a large percentage of us walk around with below adequate levels.

Get out in nature, including in winter, have a SAD lamp by your desk or in your kitchen whilst cooking if you’re feeling low during the winter months or seek guidance from a qualified health professional for vitamin D supplement advice.

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REDUCE STRESS LEVELS

There are many strategies we can adopt to reduce our individual stress levels, for some it might be yoga, for others a walk in nature or running themselves a bubble bath is just the ticket.

What we do know is that stress is often a factor in the development of disease, so take some time to explore what works for you and deliberately schedule it into your diary as a preventative tool so you don’t get to that tipping point.

4 snacks that help you relax

references

  1. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 82, No. 6, 1185-1194, December 2005
  2. Chest 2005 Apr;127(4):1102-7
  3. Xu RB, Kong X, Xu BP, et al. Longitudinal association between fasting blood glucose concentrations and first stroke in hypertensive adults in China: effect of folic acid intervention. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017;105(3):564-570. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.145656.
  4. Folic acid fortified food linked to decrease in congenital heart defects. News on Heart.org. http://news.heart.org/folic-acid-fortified-food-linked-to-decrease-in-congenital-heart-defects/. Published August 29, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2017.
jess fruit

By Jess, graze nutritionist.

Our nutritionist extraordinaire, Jess trained at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is a registered practitioner with the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She's the creator of our health badges, to help you choose the snacks and boxes that are right for you. Check out everything from Jess on our blog, with recipes and tricks to help you keep making better choices, or go to Jess's blog at jessipes.co.uk for even more.

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