When it comes to looking after your heart health, there are a number of things you can do from a nutritional point of view. 

Most definitely genetics play a role in heart health, but environment is equally as important.

Things like how you nourish yourself and how you move your body can contribute to heart health in a significant way – let’s explore a few of these.

1. EAT A PLANT-BASED DIET, WITH PLENTY OF COLOURS

There is a lot of evidence to support the power of plant-based way of eating. You can do this by increasing your intake of whole foods rich in nutrients and phytonutrients. Aim for at least six to eight servings of colourful vegetables a day and one to two of fruit. Loaded with disease-fighting vitamins, minerals, fibre, phytonutrients and of course antioxidants – they not only benefit heart health, but overall, form part of a disease-protective diet.

2. REGULATE YOUR BLOOD GLUCOSE

Research shows blood sugar imbalances can contribute to heart disease. Regulate your blood sugar by including good fats from avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds, as well as protein. When eating carbohydrates, eat them with protein or fat to slow the glucose release and do whatever you can to avoid processed sugars and refined carbohydrates.

3. INCREASE YOUR FIBRE

A high fibre diet has been shown to be protective against a number of disease including colorectal cancer and heart disease. Nourishing higher fibre foods include vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans and lower-sugar fruits, such as berries.

4. AVOID PROCESSED FOOD/DRINKS

Put down the packets and bottles of fizzy! Research shows that liquid-sugar drinks are among the biggest contributors to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. That includes fizzy drinks and juices, which adversely affect sugar and lipid metabolism.

5. INCREASE HEART PROTECTIVE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

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.

6. CUT OUT TRANS FATS

Trans and hydrogenated fats are damaged fats that adversely affect the lining of the blood vessels. They are typically found in packaged muesli bars and many baked products like biscuits, cakes and crackers. Instead use extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil, long known to be beneficial for heart health.

7. AVOID OR REDUCE ALCOHOL INTAKE

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

While there is evidence to suggest that red wine is protective for heart health, overall as a population we drink too much. Not to mention how regularly consuming it can make you feel! Current “recommendations” suggest 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 – with both women and men having at least two alcohol-free days every week.

8. MOVE YOUR BODY REGULARLY

Not only is movement/exercise free, but it is one of the most effective ways to improve heart health. Regular movement has shown to improve mood, lean muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness. Basically if it was a pill, we’d all be taking it!

9. GET YOUR VITAMIN D

Get out in the sun when you can (in the winter months). There is an association between low vitamin D status and poor metabolic health, including vascular health. A large percentage of New Zealander’s have below adequate levels of vitamin D so it’s a great thing to get checked with your GP, given this vitamin’s role in helping to prevent many degenerative diseases.

10. STRESS REDUCTION TECHNIQUES

Stress is often a factor in the development of disease. It’s all very well for me to say – “stress less” but how we do that is highly individualised. Yoga is one person’s saviour and another person’s source of frustration.

I encourage you to explore a stress reduction technique that works for you. Walking, meditation, talking to a trusted friend are all simple options that may appeal.