The best foods to eat for a healthy heart

When it comes to looking after your heart, there are some risk factors that you just cant control like genetics, your family history of heart health, and your age.

But there is a lot you can do. Healthy lifestyle habits from diet, to exercise, to looking after your mental health all have an impact on your ticker. Cutting out smoking and reducing alcohol consumption are two of the top ways to look after our heart.

We asked the Heart Foundation Dietitian Jemma O'Hanlon for 5 more ways to look after your heart health:

  1. Consistently eat good food: Eating well for your heart is not about a single superfood. The key is to regularly eat a combination of foods that are high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. That means loading up your plate with plenty of fruit and veggies and snacking on handful of nuts a day. Scientific studies consistently link eating these foods to having a healthier heart.
  2. Lower salt intake: On average Australians consume around 9 grams of salt a day, well above the Heart Foundations recommendation of less than 5 grams a day. Cutting back on salt is less to do with the pinch you add when cooking and more to do with cutting out discretionary and highly processed foods. These foods can contain high amounts of salt, that is used for flavour and also as a preservative. A healthy diet with plenty of fruit, veggies, nuts and whole grains will naturally be lower in salt, which is a big tick for heart health.
  3. Cut saturated and trans-fat: Saturated fat is found in animal products and also coconut products, like the on-trend coconut oil. Lately, there has been a lot of mixed messages on fats with diets like Paleo and Keto advocating the health benefits of saturated fat. However, when it comes to your heart, there is strong and consistent evidence that switching saturated fat for plant sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can benefit your heart health and reduce 'bad' LDL cholesterol. These heart-healthy fats can be found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and in vegetable oils like olive oil. It also important to limit trans fats as much as possible by avoiding processed and fried foods including biscuits, chips, pastries and pies.
  4. Plant Sterols: Keeping your cholesterol in check can be important for a healthy heart. Consuming plant sterols can be one way to help lower cholesterol. These plant compounds block cholesterol from being absorbed by your gut. Plant sterols can be found naturally in very small quantities in a variety of plant foods such as grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds. However, to get enough (ideally 2g a day if managing your cholesterol) eating foods enriched with plant sterols can make it easier to achieve. Foods, such as some breakfast cereals including Weet-Bix Cholesterol Lowering, spreads and milk products, are available nationally in supermarkets. Check the ingredients list on pack to see if a product contains plant sterols.
  5. Get moving: As well as focusing on what we eat, another essential aspect to giving your heart some love is to get moving. We should be aiming for moderate exercise every day. That means exercise that gets you puffing and your heart beating faster - a brisk walk, dancing, and even more vigorous household chores like vacuuming or mopping. Any exercise is better than none but ideally try for 150 minutes a week.
Finally, if you are unsure of your risk, take two minutes to complete the Heart Foundations Heart Age Calculator. Or if youre 45 and over, or 30 and over if you're of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, book a heart health check with your GP. This simple 20-minute check-up will you to better understand your risk of heart attack or stroke and work with your GP to help lower the risks.

For more information check out the Heart Foundation website or speak to your GP. Our nutrition fact sheets, created by accredited dietitians, provide the latest nutrition and lifestyle information to help you understand which foods are the best to eat. Click here to see the heart health nutrition fact sheet.

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