Felicia Newell, RD, MSc
It’s important to nourish your heart – it does a lot of hard work for your entire body, and without the right nutrition it can get strained over time and lead to negative health outcomes.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD), or hardening of the arteries, is caused by fatty deposits building up in the walls of arteries over time. This build-up causes the artery to narrow and can stop blood flow. If this happens, it can lead to angina (chest pain), a heart attack, poor blood circulation or a stroke.
Eating a heart healthy diet, along with making other healthier lifestyle choices (such as exercising and not smoking), can help reduce your risk of CVD.
You can improve your cardiovascular health by:
• changing your diet to one that is: – high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fibre, and unsaturated fats – low in trans fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt • controlling your stress • limiting your alcohol intake • quitting smoking • controlling your blood pressure • controlling your blood sugars • being physically active daily
One of the best diets, or ways of eating, for not only overall health, but especially for heart health, is the Mediterranean Diet. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean Diet can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30% or more.[i],[ii]
Principles of a Mediterranean Diet:
• Emphasis placed on fruit, vegetables, whole grain bread, pasta, rice and cereal, potatoes, legumes (beans, peas, lentils, pulses, chickpeas, etc.), fish, nuts and seeds • Include dairy products such as yogurt, Greek yogurt, cheese and milk • Include eggs and chicken • Olive oil as the principal source of fat, with other healthy fats such as olives, avocado and avocado oil • Include herbs and spices such as basil, thyme, garlic, rosemary, mint, cinnamon, pepper, etc., as well as lemon for flavoring. • Minimally processed, seasonally fresh, locally grown foods (as much as possible) • Red meat rarely • 1 glass of red wine per day • Water as main beverage, coffee and tea are acceptable, but avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juices
Sample 3 Day Sample Meal Plan for Heart Health:
Hint: if you don’t like something, such as olives, it’s okay to omit it. You can also substitute any grain with another grain (e.g. potato for brown rice), and protein with another protein (e.g. salmon for chicken), and veggie with another veggie, etc.
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with spinach, tomato & feta.
Lunch: Roasted Chickpea Wrap, with roasted chickpeas (spiced with salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne pepper), lettuce, red onion, tomato and Greek yogurt tzatziki (or homemade tzatziki).
Dinner: Grilled chicken (or sautéed in olive oil), with vegetables such as green beans or asparagus, and a small sweet or white potato with olive oil or plain Greek yogurt for flavour (or Greek yogurt tzatziki). Fruit for dessert.
Breakfast: Quinoa Breakfast Bowl with banana, blueberries, almond milk and almond butter.
Lunch: Lemon Herb Mediterranean Quinoa Salad, with arugula, chickpeas, cucumber, red onion, red bell pepper, feta cheese, and kalamata olives. Seasoned with dried basil, oregano, parsley, and lemon juice.
Salad Dressing: Equal parts olive oil, red wine vinegar & water with a splash of lemon.
Dinner: Baked salmon, served with brown rice and vegetables. Fruit for dessert.
Breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries, nuts and oats.
Lunch: Sprouted grain toast with hummus, tomato, onion, cucumber, roasted red pepper, crumbled feta cheese and a few black olive slices.
Dinner: Mediterranean pizza made with whole wheat, topped with cheese (mix of cheddar and feta, or goat cheese), spinach, red pepper and olives. Fruit for dessert.
You don’t need to eat more than 3 well-balanced meals per day, such as the ones above. However, if you become hungry between meals, these are some heart-healthy snacks that also fit with the Mediterranean diet.
• ¼ cup nuts with a medium piece of fruit • Vegetables with hummus or Greek yogurt tzatziki and 1 serving of cheese • Greek yogurt with ½ cup berries and 2 tbsp nuts or seeds • Apple slices or other fruit with almond butter • 1 serving whole grain, high fibre crackers with 1 serving of cheese • Side salad with quinoa, feta, arugula, red onion, tomatoes and lemon/olive oil dressing
[i] Mitrou PN, Kipnis V, Thiebaut AC, et al. Mediterranean dietary pattern and prediction of all-cause mortality in a US population: Results from the NIH-AARP diet and health study. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(22):2461-2468. Available from: http://www.medscape.com/medline/abstract/18071168 [ii] Estruch R, Ros E, Salas- Salvadó J, et all. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. N Engl J Med 2013; 368:1279-1290. Available from: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa1200303#t=article