Many forms of heart disease can be prevented. There are also many ways to reduce your risk and improve heart health. Prioritizing a balanced diet is essential in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease.
This article will explore heart disease, heart disease prevention, and what foods promote heart health. It will also provide nutrition tips to improve your heart health.
What is heart disease, and what causes it?
Heart disease is a term that refers to several different cardiovascular conditions. Heart failure, arrhythmias, and congenital disabilities are all examples of heart disease.
CAD is the most common form of heart disease. This condition causes the blood vessels that bring blood to the heart to become filled with plaque. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque in arteries caused by fat and cholesterol.
Plaque can rupture or break, causing blood clots to form. Blood clots that prevent blood from returning to the heart (medically known as myocardial ischemia) can lead to heart attacks, while those that block blood to the brain may cause strokes.
- Angina is characterized by chest pain, pressure, or tightness.
- Shortness of Breath
- Back, neck, jaw, or upper abdomen area pain
- You may experience pain, weakness, or numbness in your legs or arms
A patient may not be aware of CAD until a severe event such as a stroke, heart attack, or heart failure occurs.
Estimates 20 million Americans older than 20 years old have CAD.
Hypertension, or chronically high blood pressure, is another common precursor to heart disease. Hypertension makes the heart pump harder to circulate blood through the body. This can cause an enlarged heart and narrowed vessels.
Heart Disease Risk Factors
Nearly 47% of Americans are at risk for heart disease. Examples include:
- Sedentary lifestyle/lack of physical activity
- High blood pressure or high cholesterol (of particular concern are levels higher than average of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol, and ranks lower than average of HDL cholesterol).
- Family history of cardiovascular disease, mainly if it was developed by a relative at a young age (before age 55 for male relatives and before 65 for female relatives).
- Diagnosis Diabetes
- Poor diet quality, particularly diets high in fat, salt, and sugar
- Poor dental health
- The risk is higher for men than women. However, the risk increases in women after menopause
- Age increases the risk of heart disease.
Although heart disease can’t be reversed, it can be treated with medications, procedures, and lifestyle changes.
What Nutrition Can Impact Heart Health?
The development of cardiovascular diseases is linked to an imbalanced diet. We’ll start by focusing on the overall picture in this section before sharing some nutrition tips to improve heart health.
The risk of heart disease is increased by diets high in refined foods, sodium, sugar, and fats.
Heart disease typically develops either after or alongside its risk factors like high cholesterol (known medically as hypercholesterolemia) and hypertension. It is well-known that nutrient-dense food and a balanced diet can improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other cardiometabolic lab values.
The research shows that different nutrients can promote heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease.
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The type and quantity of dietary lipids are crucial for heart disease. High-fat foods, like red meat, processed meats, butter, and lard, can cause heart atherosclerosis. Also, some plant oils like palm and coconut are high in saturated fat.
Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, have a positive impact on heart health. Monounsaturated Fats, such as those found in canola and olive oil, are associated with reduced blood pressure.
The health of your heart may be most affected by polyunsaturated fatty acids.
A study found that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated ones reduced the risk of adverse cardiac events more than substituting monounsaturated, carbohydrate, and protein.
The primary polyunsaturated fatty acids sources are walnuts, chia seed, and vegetable oils such as safflower or sunflower. Omega-3s may be the best-known polyunsaturated fats.
Proteins are essential for maintaining and growing muscle, including heart muscle. Complete proteins are animal sources like meat, dairy, and eggs. They contain all nine amino acids essential to the body. Most plant sources (except soy) of protein still need to be completed.
Similarly to fats, some proteins are better for heart health than others. The consumption of red and processed meats, especially in fried forms, is associated with an increased risk for heart disease.
Plant-based proteins may significantly impact CVD risk more than animal protein. Men with high cholesterol saw significant drops in cholesterol after switching to soy protein.
As part of a heart-healthy diet, carbohydrates high in fiber are recommended. Fiber lowers cholesterol and improves blood pressure.
Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, legumes such as lentils, beans, peas, and whole grains, like whole wheat, brown rice, and whole grain cereals.
Fruits and vegetables contain several nutrients for the heart, notably antioxidants. These phytochemicals prevent the oxidation and accumulation of plaque in arteries caused by cholesterol.
Many Americans consume too much sodium, even though it is an essential mineral and electrolyte for the body. A high sodium intake increases the risk of hypertension and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
The U.S. National Institute of Health has developed a diet called the Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension(DASH), which combines sodium reduction with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and low-fat or fat-free dairy.
DASH has been shown to reduce CVD risk factors such as systolic, diastolic, and LDL (bad cholesterol) blood pressure.
What is the best-recommended nutrition for the heart?
American Heart Association makes the following recommendations for a heart-healthy daily diet:
- Five servings of vegetables or 2.5 cups (fresh, frozen, canned, dried)
- Fruits (fresh, frozen, canned, dried): 4 portions or 2 cups
- Whole grains like barley, brown or white rice, oatmeal, popcorn and whole wheat crackers, breads, crackers, pasta, breads, etc.
- Three servings of dairy products with a low-fat (1%) or fat-free content
- Eggs, fish that are not fried, lean meats and legumes, seeds, nuts, poultry without skin, and beans are all good protein sources.
- Three tablespoons of polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oil include canola, olives, peanuts, safflower, sesame, and safflower.
The AHA has also developed a heart-check certification program that classifies food found in supermarkets according to seven criteria for a heart-healthy lifestyle. They include:
- Total fat less than 6.5 grams
- Saturated fats of 1 gram or less and 15% fewer calories
- Trans fats less than 0.5 grams in each label serving
- Cholesterol less than 20 mg
- Sodium is based on the food category and can be up to 140mg, 240mg, 360mg, or 480mg per serving.
- 10% of the daily value of one of six naturally occurring nutrients: vitamin A, B, C, or iron.