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Food groups that can help lower your cardiovascular risk

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Your heart might be in the right place but is it functioning at the right pace?

As we age, our biological body does too. This ageing process can be slowed down with a consistant healthy lifestyle beginning from your youth, but not completely stalled, might I add. The sooner you jump on the band wagon of maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, you reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) or other diseases.

A well-balanced diet can help mitigate the risks that come in toe with heart problems. Heart healthy, nutrient-dense and anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and dairy will help keep CVD at bay.

There are a few diets that have been recognised for their cardiovascular benefits, but diets that you cant sustain, dont work in the long run. It is permanent lifestyle changes that work for your benefit.

The type of food groups to add to your daily diet or diets that are sustainable for  CVD are discussed below —

  • Healthy Eating Index (HEI) — HEI is a scoring system developed by nutrition experts to examine the quality of your diet based on dietary guidelines. It measures how well a diet aligns with your health requirements and reccomendations.
  • Mediterranean diet — The Mediterranean diet focuses on the traditional eating habits of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It emphasizes eating whole foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats like olive oil, while limiting processed foods and red meat. This diet is associated with numerous health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and improved overall well-being.
  • Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)- The DASH diet emphasises a balanced intake of whole foods, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, while reducing sodium intake. This diet is specifically designed to lower blood pressure and risk of heart disease by promoting a nutrient-dense and low sodium diet.
  • Vegetarian whole-food diet- This diet basically requires you to replace animal protein with plant based proteins sources like legumes and nuts which benefit heart health.

NOTE: You don’t necessarily need to go completely plant-based to lower your risk of heart disease.

The key food groups that play an important role in promoting cardiovascular health —

Fruits

Eating 2-3 servings of fruit everyday can lower your risk of developing heart disease, benefit your heart health, gut health and even protect you from cancer. Fruits like berries, papaya and red grapes are favoured for heart health. A diet with diverse fruits offer vital nutrients to your body which help in supporting cardiovascular health. Fruits are high-fibre sources of vitamins and minerals like A, C, and E vitamins, potassium and folic acid that reduce heart disease and even aid in bodily repair.

Vegetables

Vegetables provide essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre to your body that aids in heart health and preventing cardiovascular disease. The low-calorie content of vegetables can replace high-calorie foods thereby promoting a balanced diet. Opting for vegetables as quick snacks or adding it to every meal is a great way to integrate it into your diet. Stir-fries, fibrous soups and salads are varied ways of preparing veggies so you don’t get bored. Regular consumption of vegetables, particularly diverse options like leafy greens and colourful veggies,  supports your heart health by regulating your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and reducing inflammation in your body  while strengthening your overall immune system.

Beans and legumes

Legumes, beans, lentils and chickpeas are the most popular plant-based proteins. They offer fibre, aid in gut health and lower the risk of dev\eloping cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk through reduced inflammation and blood pressure. Including 3-4 servings per week improves heart health by lowering cholesterol, making a sustainable dietary choice.

Nuts and seeds

Incorporating a handful of heart-healthy seeds and nuts like almonds, flax seeds, hazelnuts, walnuts or pistachios into your daily diet supplies beneficial fats, omega-3s, fibre and antioxidants to your body. These nutrient-dense food options are rich in monounsaturated fats and fibre which can safeguard you against heart disease.

Whole grains

Whole grains are rich in fibre and nutrients that aid in maintaining good blood pressure levels and heart health. Opting for whole grains over refined products or limiting refined grains is the way to go to support your heart health. Options like farro, brown rice, oats and quinoa are good for your heart. Processed grains increase coronary heart disease risk, while whole grains offer protection against  heart disease.

Fish

Regularly consuming fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines provides you with a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s found in oily fish prevent erratic heart rhythms, improve your cholesterol levels, lowers inflammation, reduces blood clotting and supports overall heart health. Adding fish to your diet can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by leaps and bounds.

Full-fat dairy

Recent research challenges previous beliefs of lowfat being healthier than full fat dairy. A moderate intake of full-fat dairy products like whole milk, cheese and yogurt has shown to protect cardiovascular health. Full fat dairy offers your body essential nutrients like protein, calcium and vitamin D. With growing evidence to support the recommended 14 servings of whole-fat dairy weekly, the conventional low-fat diet narrative has changed.

A few must add foods to your diet to protect your heart-

  • Garlic- Garlic can help ward off heart disease symptoms and keep it performing well.
  • Prunes- Prunes are great to ward off bad cholesterol and keep your heart in check.
  • Berries- Berries are rich in antioxidants which help reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • Dark chocolate- Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants which boost your heart health.

Finally —

Embrace a colourful approach to heart health by incorporating fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and whole-fat dairy into your culinary canvas. These food groups are brimming with essential and heart-loving nutrients. Including these foods into your daily diet will provide you with a nourishing and balanced feast.

Enriching your plate with these heart-sustaining culinary treasures can keep your cardiovascular compass steady and guide you away from the deep waters of heart disease.

Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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