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Food you should be eating for heart health (but probably aren’t)


Joel spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald about why we should be adopting a heart-healthy diet – see the link.


Diet is crucial in promoting good heart health. It should be considered one piece of a complex puzzle, but one that is vital to help lower our risk of heart disease.


Evidence shows that a high consumption of added sugar greatly increases the risk of dying from heart disease. Plus, a high salt and inadequate fibre intakes can also increase our risk of heart disease and other nasties.


Nevertheless, there is increasing evidence that a diet high in monounsaturated fat (the ones predominately found in extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds and avocado) can help to promote better cholesterol and triglyceride levels and therefore better heart health.


The landmark PREDIMED Study found that a high intake of monounsaturated fats was associated with reduced cardiovascular disease and mortality risk in a Mediterranean population. So you can eat yourself to better heart health!


The research in Mediterranean countries is heartening (pun intended) and proof that you can eat your way to better heart health. And there’s certainly no need to cut out sugar, fat, dairy, whole grains, the occasional brew, or to revert to using meal replacements or South American herbal tonics.


Further, fibre has been shown to reduce our risk of heart disease and even certain types of cancers. In fact, there’s a whole lot of research that shows that people with a higher intake of cereal fibres have a reduced risk of premature death from a range of chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and even diabetes.


The key to dietary success is getting the balance right. The focus should be on eating whole foods. Think plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, dairy, whole grains, nuts and seeds and lean proteins. And aiming for 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive each day is the cherry on top!


More specifically, we need to be including more vegetables in our diet. Aussies drop the ball when it comes to hitting our target. Vegetables contain a host of nutrients, antioxidants as well as fibre. Including an extra serve of veggies at lunch and dinner with a healthy splash of extra virgin olive oil can have profound effects on our heart health and waistline, too. The science overwhelmingly shows that people who eat more veggies have fewer incidences of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers, and are also more likely to be a healthier weight.


Whole grains are nutritional powerhouses that boast a high protein and fibre content and contain a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals. Yes, carbs in the form of whole grain are necessary for good heart health… contrary to popular opinion on social media and gossip magazines. Research shows that people who regularly include whole grains as part of their diet have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure rates and are less likely to develop diabetes and certain cancers. So there’s no need to fear or avoid carbohydrate-rich foods like brown rice, oats, whole grain breakfast cereal, quinoa etc.


Heart disease is a silent killer. We often don’t feel the effects of high blood pressure and there are no physical warnings of high cholesterol or blood sugar levels (diabetes is also a risk factor for heart disease). So, it’s clear that we need to be vigilant and to eat better to protect our hearts.