It’s Heart Health Month, and who better to give us the low down on what to eat for optimal heart health than Lomax nutritional therapist, Kathryn Fielding…
In 2014 cardiovascular disease (CVD) was the second main cause of death in the UK [i], and hospital admissions for CVD increased by over 46,000 from 2010 to 2015, with more than 36,500 of these being men [iii]. Yes, those are some scary stats but thankfully heart disease is, for the most part, preventable, and what’s even better is that you can eat your way to a better ticker.
The low-fat food market is a lucrative one, and mixed messages have lead us to believe that fat is bad. We’ve been told fatty foods clog arteries, causing heart attacks, whilst other fats are stored in our bodies, making us fat. However, many low-fat alternatives often contain more sugar than full-fat equivalents, which actually contribute to heart disease. Evidence for sugar’s detrimental effect on health is increasing, with a recent study revealing excess consumption trebles the risk of heart disease [iv]. Opting for full-fat foods not only helps you avoid consuming unnecessary sugars,it also, according to a recent study lowers your risk of CVD. Participants who ate the most full-fat dairy had a 69% lower risk of CVD that those who ate the least [v].
The truth is some fats are not only good for us, they are essential for life. Clinical research indicates that types of fats are more important than total amounts of fats in determining risk of CVD. Fats are made of fatty acids which when grouped together form lipids. They are not water soluble meaning they have to attach themselves to proteins to travel around the blood. High density lipoproteins (HDL) are viewed as “good”, and are mainly produced in the liver before being safely transported around the body. Low density lipoprotein (LDL) are viewed as “bad”. This is because they allow small drops of lipids to get caught in blood vessel walls, which can cause the build-up of plaque, heart disease and even strokes.
Fats associated with a lower risk of CHD
These fat sources are found in natural vegetable oils and are fairly protective.
- Omega 3: fats derived from our diet abundant in fatty wild fish and flaxseeds.
- Omega 6: found in vegetable oils, nuts, and fatty meat. Studies have shown high levels of Omega 6 to actually be more beneficial to the heart than omega 3 [vi], contrary to mainstream guidance that tells us to reduce Omega 6 consumption.
These fats come from olive oil, canola oil, and rapeseed oil and are predominantely beneficial.
Fats associated with a higher risk of CHD
- Animal meats and dairy products such as butter, cheese and reduced milk are not to be had in excess. However, evidence from long term cohort studies shows that high milk consumption doesn’t increase CVD risk.
- A substrate group of medium-chain triglycerides include coconut oil and palm oil. Coconut oil is approximately 90% saturated fat, higher than butter which is 64%. Too much saturated fat in the diet is bad as it raises LDL levels, however coconut oil also provides “good” HDL. Research into how coconut oil effects heart disease is limited [viii], so for now use sparingly to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Also known as hydrogenated fats are the worst kind. Totally artificial, found in processed and fried foods.
What to eat
Alongside increasing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat consumption, whilst reducing saturated fats and avoiding trans fats and sugar, one of the best-studied diet for cardiovascular health is the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the burden, or even prevent the development, of cardiovascular disease. The diet has been shown to favorably modify known vascular risk factors, including blood lipid profile, blood pressure, inflammatory markers, insulin resistance, and endothelial dysfunction [ix].This diet is also known to improve surrogates of cardiovascular disease, such as waist-to-hip ratio, lipids, and markers of inflammation [x].
Chow down on…
1. Fatty fish: mackerel, sardines, tuna, wild salmon
2. Monounsaturated fats from olive oil
3. Fruits: apples, strawberries, blueberries, oranges
4. Non-startchy vegetables: artichokes, beetroot, broccoli, kale
5. Whole grains: barley, buckwheat, oats, rice, couscous
6. Nuts & seeds: almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pinenuts, sesame seeds
7. Red wine in moderation
8. Beans & legumes: chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils (sock overnight to increase digestibility)
By Kathryn Fielding, Plenish Cleanse Ambassador
Nutritional Therapist, DipION, mBANT, CNHC
 Townsend N, Bhatnagar P, Wilkins E, et al. Cardiovascular disease statistics 2015. London: British Heart Foundation, 2015.
 Würtz P et al. (2015) Metabolite profiling and cardiovascular event risk: a prospective study of 3 population-based cohorts. Circulation. Accessed [Online] PubMed
Hobbs D.A, Lovegrove J.A, Givens I.D (2016) Chapter 5 – Dairy Products: Their Role in the Diet and Effects on Cardiovascular Disease Accessed [Online] ScienceDirect http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9781630670368000056
. McEvoy C, Woodside J.V (2015) Chapter 26 – Mediterranean Diet for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes Accessed [Online] ScienceDirect http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128000939000260
 Widmer J, Flammer A.J, Lerman L.O, Lerman A (2015) The Mediterranean Diet, its Components, and Cardiovascular Disease. The American Journal of Medicine. Accessed [Online] ScienceDirect http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002934314009139