Here's how to eat to protect your heart

Created with the Heart Foundation
Colourful fruit and vegetables in the shape of a heart

We all know eating well can contribute to overall good health – but did you know that eating certain foods can also benefit your heart? Here’s a guide to create a heart-healthy eating pattern.

Heart-healthy eating in five quick steps

1. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains 

Fruit and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre and antioxidants. They’ve also been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease [2]. Whole grains are foods like brown rice, wholemeal pasta, grainy bread and oats that are full of fibre and can help lower your cholesterol. Swapping from refined grains like white bread and white rice to whole grain versions is a simple change that can improve your diet. 

2. Include a variety of healthy, protein-rich foods 

Not all protein-rich foods are created equal – the best options are plant-based proteins like beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds, as well as fish and seafood, all of which have been shown to reduce heart disease risk [3]. You can also enjoy eggs and poultry as part of a heart-healthy eating pattern, but take note: research shows that eating red meat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease [4], so limit your red meat consumption to 1-3 times a week.

3. Choose unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese 

Milk, yoghurt and cheese are important sources of calcium, protein and other minerals. While eating these foods won’t increase or decrease your heart disease risk, choosing reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese is a healthier option if you have heart disease or high cholesterol. And, as a general rule, unflavoured versions of these foods that contain no added sugar are the healthiest options overall.

4. Include healthy fats and oils 

Fats and oils can play an important role in your heart health, but they’re not all the same: healthy fats can help protect your heart and lower your cholesterol, while unhealthy fats can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Choose foods with high amounts of healthy fats such as avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, and use healthy oils for cooking – for example, olive, canola, sunflower, peanut and soybean oil. 

5. Reduce your salt intake 

Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Reduce the amount of salt you eat by basing your diet on fresh foods like fruit and vegetables – processed and packaged foods like canned foods, deli meats and baked goods often contain high levels of sodium. Looking to add extra flavour to your food? Try adding herbs and spices in place of salt.  

Fresh fruit and vegetables arranged on a chopping board

Eat fresh (not processed)

Up to 35 per cent [5] of the average Australian diet is currently made up of highly processed foods like baked goods, chips, soft drinks and lollies. These foods are usually high in added sugar, salt, and saturated and trans fats, which means they aren’t part of a heart-healthy diet. Eat these foods sparingly and only in small amounts.   

The ideal portion size

How much you eat is another important part of eating well for your heart. When it’s time to sit down for a meal, split your plate into different food groups as shown below. Fill half your plate with fresh fruit or veg, a quarter of your plate with carbohydrates and the other quarter with lean protein.

References

1. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 2018, Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 (GBD 2017) Results, Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network, Seattle, Available from http://ghdx.healthdata.org/gbdresults-tool  Collins CE, Burrows TL, Rollo ME.

2. A review of evidence to address targeted questions to inform the revision of the Australian Dietary Guidelines (2011) Accessed: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/the_guidelines/n55d_dietary_guidelines_evidence_report.pdf 

3. Dietary Patterns and Cardiovascular Disease Outcomes: an Evidence Check rapid review brokered by the Sax Institute for the National Heart Foundation of Australia, 2017, Ndanuko et al (2019)

4. Animal sourced proteins (meat and poultry) and Cardiovascular Health: an evidence check brokered by the Sax Institute for the National Heart Foundation of Australia. 2019.  Santos JA, Webster J, Land MA, Flood V, Chalmers J, Woodward M, Neal B, Petersen KS.

5. Nutrition across the life stages. Cat. no. PHE 227. Canberra: AIHW 


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Coles has partnered with the Heart Foundation to provide this content to you and help Australians live healthier and happier lives.

For personalised heart health information and support, contact the Heart Foundation Helpline 13 11 12.

 

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