What should I eat to protect my heart?
Unhealthy diets and malnutrition increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. These diseases are the leading cause of death in western countries and according to statistics are responsible for 30% of all deaths worldwide. In recent years, Western dietary patterns have led to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes, factors that play a catalytic role in their development. As a result, science has shifted the weight of its research to the search for dietary patterns that could reverse the current situation.
After many years of studies and meta-analyzes, it has been shown that healthy eating patterns, but also the adoption of specific habits can protect the heart, prolong life and give quality years.
As for nutrition, it is now absolutely certain that it plays an important role in the development of atherosclerosis directly or indirectly, through the increase of known risk factors, such as triglycerides, blood pressure and blood glucose.
The „voices“ that support the need to return to a diet with less meat, salt, and processed foods are increasing. However, there are points that are not fully understood by people who do not have specialized knowledge.
A recent, comprehensive review of the study published in Cardiovascular Research, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology, has made it clear the need to consume more plant-based foods and has provided up-to-date information on the amount that can be safely consumed by any diet group and how often. Scientists argue that no food should be excluded from the diet of healthy people, but everything should be taken in moderation.
What should this measure be in the end?
In recent years, many studies on the dangers of eating red and processed meat have come to light. Although the latter has become widely known to be harmful to health, the findings of the red meat studies are inconsistent.
New evidence suggests that both are dangerous to cardiovascular health.
Scientists have concluded that processed meats (sausages, bacon, salami, etc.) should not be on our table on a regular or frequent basis, but only occasionally, as the evidence demonstrates a significant risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease from their consumption.
As for unprocessed red meat (pork, beef and lamb), the data do not inspire much concern, as they show that healthy people can consume it but wisely. In practice this means that the consumption of 2 servings of 100 g is recommended per week, unless is contraindicated for medical reasons. However, the scientists point out that their conclusion is based on current breeding data, and may differ if the genetic background and diet of the animals change.
For white meat (chicken, rabbit, turkey) there is no evidence that correlates its consumption with heart damage. That is why it is allowed to consume it in moderate quantities (up to 3 servings of 100 g per week).
They have previously been accused of being harmful to health when consumed regularly, due to their high cholesterol content, which can help increase its levels in the blood. However, the response to dietary cholesterol is variable and partly under genetic control.
However, the findings of several meta-analyzes of prospective studies agree that there is no association between moderate egg consumption (up to 1 egg / day) and the development of cardiovascular disease. The risk is likely to increase when the amount consumed is greater.
Therefore, moderate consumption of eggs is allowed in healthy people. This may not be the case for people with hyperlipidemia or diabetes who need more attention, as well as people who follow a diet high in saturated fat.
It is a large group of foods, which includes foods with several differences in their nutritional characteristics, including fat and salt content.
For the healthy population, the researchers concluded that moderate consumption of dairy products does not have a negative effect on the heart.
Importantly, the data do not support the need to use low-fat dairy products, instead of full-fat ones, to prevent heart disease.
Current data lead experts to support the consumption of milk and cheese in moderation (1 cup per day and, respectively, 3 small portions of 50 g per week). However, they are more „lenient“ with yogurt, as they recommend the inclusion, in the daily diet, of 1 serving of yogurt 200 gr.
The above options even have a protective effect, as they claim, because they have been fermented and contain bacteria beneficial for intestinal health, which has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk.
Moderate consumption of fish is significantly associated with reduced incidence and mortality from coronary heart disease. Scientists believe that this is due to their high content of omega-3 polyunsaturated long-chain fats, which help control triglycerides and have strong anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant action.
They recommend the consumption of 2-4 servings of fish of 150 gr. per week, believing that these amounts help prevent atherosclerosis, as the evidence for higher consumption is not so clear.
In addition to their high protein content, legumes are a good source of viscous fiber, which has a beneficial effect on lipids and helps control the increase in glucose and insulin after meals. It is also rich in many ingredients that can improve cardiovascular health, such as folic acid.
Regular consumption of legumes, up to 4 servings of 180 gr. (fresh or frozen) a week is one of the wisest choices for heart protection.
In this category of foods, studies agree that there is an inverse relationship between normal consumption of nuts and the risk of coronary heart disease and mortality from it. In terms of quantities, the findings showed that the consumption of 28 g. nuts a day offers an average reduction of 25% in the incidence of coronary heart disease.
Also, another reason that nuts are beneficial and protect the heart is their fiber content which is a source of linoleic acid.
For the quantities, they recommend consuming 1 portion of nuts (30 g) every day.
Vegetables and fruits
Consumption of vegetables and fruits has a positive effect on cardiovascular health. It has been found that the consumption of 2 servings of 400 gr. daily reduces the chance of developing diseases by up to 21%. This amount also offers a 34% reduction in coronary heart disease mortality.
For the vegetable species, the researchers found that high compared to low consumption of green leafy vegetables and tomatoes reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease and mortality by 17% and 10%, respectively.
Regarding the consumption of fruits, the most recent and complete meta-analysis shows that the daily consumption of 400 g. is associated with a 10% reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease and 18% death due to it, as well as a 21% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and 32% death from it.
The same goes for natural fruit juices. In contrast, canned fruits are associated with a significantly higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
It is therefore recommended to consume large amounts of fruits and vegetables daily. Specifically, at least 2 servings of 200 gr. from each of them.
According to the data, processed cereals that significantly increase the glycemic index are harmful to heart health. Such are for example white rice and products made from white flour.
Therefore, both these and other starchy foods, such as potatoes, should be avoided. It is recommended to limit their consumption to 2 servings per week, and this only because they are consumer foods (which would be impossible to further reduce) but also to replace them with whole grain foods.
Olive oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, seed oil and corn oil are healthier choices than butter as well as other animal fats or tropical oils rich in saturated fats (eg palm oil). The latter should be used infrequently.
Among the healthiest sources of unsaturated fats is extra virgin olive oil. This has been shown to be an important source of micronutrients that have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular risk factors.
The daily consumption of the above healthy oils should be between 25 and 40 g, depending on the energy needs, since the oil is rich in calories.
Salt has received a great deal of attention as a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
A recent comprehensive meta-analysis of 24 studies shows that those who take high amounts of sodium have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which increases by up to 6% for every 1 g. increase his intake.
It is well known that high sodium intake negatively affects several mechanisms that lead to cardiovascular disease, such as increased blood pressure.
The safe limit of daily sodium intake today has been judged to be up to 5 g. salt (equivalent to about 2.3 g of sodium). However, it is believed that the population in western countries far exceeds it, as about 80% of salt intake is hidden in processed and canned foods, which are widely consumed.
Chocolate is often praised for its beneficial properties. It has been judged that the consumption of 20 gr. daily reduces the chance of coronary heart disease by an average of 5%. However, it is recommended to consume only 10 g. dark chocolate daily, both because of the high content of milk chocolate in saturated fats and added sugars, and because the larger amount increases the risk of weight gain and its associated harmful effects on cardiovascular health.
Polyphenols, including flavanols, such as catechin, are found in chocolate in higher amounts than in other dietary sources, such as red wine or tea. Cocoa is also a very good source of polymer proanthocyanidins, which help prevent atherosclerosis by reducing oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation, as well as platelet activation. Intake of flavanol from cocoa has been found to lower triglycerides and C-reactive protein (produced by the liver during any acute inflammation) and increase high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol).
Consumption of 250 ml of soft drinks with sugar per day increases by 15-22% the chance of coronary heart disease. It has equally negative effects on the occurrence of cardiovascular disease, but also death. Soft drinks with artificial sweeteners, such as acesulfame-K, aspartame and sucralose, which have been selected as healthier, have also been found guilty. Studies show that consuming a portion (250 ml) of light and zero soft drinks causes a significant increase in the risk of coronary heart disease, as well as the incidence and mortality from cardiovascular disease.
The same goes for fructose, as it increases lipid levels and insulin sensitivity.
Therefore, it is recommended to limit the consumption of both soft drinks with sugar and those containing its substitutes.
Coffee and tea
Recent meta-analyzes have shown that consuming 3 cups of coffee a day is associated with a 10% and 16% reduction, respectively, in the risk of developing and dying from coronary heart disease.
It is caused by the many active ingredients it contains, including phenolics, such as chlorogenic acid, as well as caffeine, minerals such as potassium and magnesium, B3 and its precursor, trigonelline, and lignans.
Coffee consumption has also been found to protect against type 2 diabetes.
In contrast, high coffee consumption is associated with a slightly increased risk of hypertension and higher homocysteine levels in the long run. In addition, the caffeestone content of unfiltered coffee increases totals cholesterol levels.
In summary, its beneficial properties are related to the amount ingested, which should not exceed 3 cups of filtered coffee, in healthy people and those who are not sensitive to its harmful effects (eg arrhythmias, hypertension, etc.)
Tea is also associated with lower incidence and mortality due to coronary heart disease, which exceeds 20% by consuming 3 cups per day. Especially green tea has protective properties due to the technical properties it contains in large quantities, which reduce inflammation of blood vessels, protect against the oxidation of lipoproteins, atherogenesis and thrombogenesis.
It is therefore permissible to consume up to 3 cups of tea a day, unless contraindicated for medical reasons. But beware: this number is not added to that of the recommended amount of coffee intake. Experts say that it is allowed to consume 3 cups of coffee or tea.
The rapid rise of cardiovascular disease worldwide is strong evidence that modifications are needed in everyday life to reduce the epidemic of non-communicable diseases. Long-term lifestyle changes are relatively easy to achieve as long as the factor of enjoyment is taken into account in order to be consistent and lasting. Therefore, it is not enough just to know about the right food choices, but also to have delicious recipes that promote healthy choices and weight loss to those who need it.
See here the healthy options we have prepared for you.