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Diet for cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular diseases are a group of disorders, with multiple causes, that affect the proper functioning of the heart. Fortunately, cardiovascular diseases can be treated and avoided with a healthy lifestyle and appropriate medication. The cardiovascular diet aims to control weight, regulate blood sugar, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol to prevent recurrence and preserve the heart.

The key points of the cardiovascular diet are
  • Choose foods that are sources of good fats
  • Avoiding fats that are harmful to the heart
  • Consume fiber and fruits and vegetables
  • Ensure a low glycemic index diet
  • Encourage physical activity and a healthy lifestyle

Benefits of the diet for cardiovascular disease

The diet for cardiovascular diseases has many benefits, it allows to
  • Increase the consumption of heart-healthy foods
  • Avoid foods that are bad for the heart
  • Regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Promote a healthier lifestyle
  • Reduce the risk of recurrence
  • Prevent the occurrence of cardiovascular events
Eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of heart disease by helping to improve the intake of heart-healthy nutrients, control body weight, lower blood pressure and control blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Is the Mediterranean diet perfect for cardiovascular disease?

It has been shown in scientific studies that following a Mediterranean-type diet could decrease the risk of cardiovascular mortality. This diet is mainly rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, oilseeds and olive oil. This diet also encourages regular consumption of poultry and fish and low consumption of sweets, red and processed meat, especially deli meats. The antioxidant and anticoagulant effects of the Mediterranean diet would explain its positive effect on cardiovascular health.

Fats, good or bad for the heart?

Until recently, limiting total fat intake and especially saturated fat was the message conveyed to reduce cardiovascular risk. A recent meta-analysis of numerous scientific studies showed that total fat intake was not significantly associated with cardiovascular mortality. In other words, total fat intake has little influence on the risk of heart disease. The most recent recommendations of the American Heart Association (AHA) now make specific recommendations for each type of fat and place less emphasis on total fat intakes. However, other associations/institutions still make recommendations on total fat, advising to limit total fat intake to between 20 and 35% of total calories consumed in a day.

Many foods naturally contain fat, such as meats and dairy products, but fat is also added in baked goods such as waffles, cereals, breads and crackers. In addition to these products, there are fats used in cooking or in salads for example. Fats should not be banned, but you should keep a close eye on their place in your diet.

Heart-healthy foods: dietary recommendations

This sheet presents general recommendations to ensure a healthy diet and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease or recurrence. The diet to adopt must be varied, balanced and rich in heart-healthy foods. On the contrary, foods that are bad for the heart should be avoided as much as possible.

Heart-healthy foods to include in the diet

Heart-healthy foods are, above all, those that allow the cardiovascular system to function properly while protecting it from cardiovascular accidents. A Mediterranean-style diet rich in good fats, fiber, fruits and vegetables and lean protein is recommended. In case of cardiovascular disease, the diet should be complemented by physical activity.

Good fats
Monounsaturated fats have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels. It is therefore recommended to consume foods that are a source of them regularly:
  • Olive and rapeseed oil
  • Non-hydrogenated margarines
  • Avocado
  • Oilseeds
Polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially omega-3, are protective for the heart. Those of marine origin have been the most studied. They have anti-inflammatory properties and protect the arteries from atherosclerosis. The recommended intake of plant omega-3 (ALA) is around 1 g per day. Also, the need for marine omega-3 (EPA and DHA) is 500 mg per day. To reach these needs, it is recommended to consume fatty fish 2 to 3 times a week.

The fish that contain a good amount of omega-3 are
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Tuna
In addition, adding a plant source to each can also help meet the need. Good sources of plant-based Omega-3s are:
  • Flaxseed and oil
  • Walnut and nut oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Chia, pumpkin and hemp seeds
Lean protein
Choosing lean cuts of meat is very important in the Special Heart Health Diet. Meats that are recommended for consumption are:
  • Beef: Inside round, steak or roast round, steak or roast outside round, loin, rump roast, tenderloin, striploin, stewing beef, extra lean ground beef
  • Pork: Roast and buttock chops, tenderloin, boneless end roast, middle loin
  • Poultry: White meat of chicken or turkey without skin, guinea fowl, pheasant and goose without skin
  • Veal: Roast buttock or shoulder, loin, chops, cutlets, steak
  • Lamb : Leg, loin, chops, shoulder roast
  • Game: all cuts
It is also important to choose low-fat dairy products such as
  • Cheeses with less than 20% fat
  • Milk and yogurt with less than 2% fat
  • Cream with less than 15% fat
Fruits and vegetables
Eating vegetables and fruit is one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy. Fruits and vegetables are rich in phytochemicals and protective antioxidants. Many vegetables and fruit are rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A. These substances act as powerful antioxidants in the body and help reduce the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries.

The best sources of vitamin C are:
  • Broccoli
  • Peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Orange
  • Kiwi
  • Melon
  • Lemon
The best sources of beta-carotene are recognizable by their beautiful orange-red color:
  • Carrot
  • Squash
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet potato
It is advisable to include fruits and vegetables in every meal and snack, in a systematic way.

The best ways to cook vegetables are by steaming or grilling to retain as much of the nutrients as possible. Fresh or frozen vegetables are recommended. On the other hand, canned fruits and vegetables should not be eaten because they are bathed in a very sweet or salty liquid and lose a large part of their nutrients.

Fiber is an essential component of a heart healthy diet. It is found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and oilseeds.

Soluble fibre is the one to be favoured in the diet for cardiovascular diseases. Indeed, soluble fibers have the property to decrease blood glucose and cholesterol levels, two factors that have an impact on cardiovascular risk.

Low glycemic index foods
The glycemic index classifies foods according to the increase in blood sugar levels they cause in relation to a reference food, glucose. Eating foods with a low glycemic index can not only help control blood sugar and cholesterol levels but also reduce the risk of heart disease.

Other recommended foods:
  • Antioxidants
  • Physical activity
  • Good hydration
  • Varied and seasonal cuisine

Foods that are bad for the heart to avoid

Some foods that are bad for the heart should be strongly limited in the special diet for cardiovascular diseases. This is the case of bad lipids that accelerate the formation of atherosclerosis plaques, or sodium that promotes hypertension. Simple sugars, alcohol and tobacco also have a very harmful effect on health in general and on the heart in particular. It is therefore recommended to avoid them.

Bad Fats
All experts agree that foods containing trans fats should be avoided because they increase cardiovascular risk. It is necessary to check the list of ingredients of food products to find terms such as: hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, vegetable fat, vegetable margarine. There are also trans fatty acids naturally present in dairy products and their derivatives as well as in meat. According to the most recent studies, these fatty acids have little impact on cardiovascular risk. Saturated fats should also be avoided in this diet. Indeed, they would have a negative effect on the heart and would promote overweight and atherosclerosis.

Foods that are bad for the heart because they are rich in bad fats are :
  • Cookies, pastries, pastries
  • Pasta
  • Fried and breaded products
  • Industrial products and prepared meals
  • Fatty meats
  • Deli meats
  • Butter
  • Hydrogenated margarines
  • Palm and coconut oil
  • Cheese
  • Cream
  • Milk and whole milk products
As part of the diet for cardiovascular disease, it is recommended to limit added fats. Thus, a woman should not consume more than 4 to 6 servings of added fat, and a man no more than 6 to 8.

One serving of added fat is equal to:
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 15ml of salad dressing
  • 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon of oilseed puree
  • 7 olives
  • 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed
  • 1/6 avocado
  • 1 tablespoon of cream or cream-based sauce
  • 5g butter or margarine
  • 30g of cheese
  • 2 slices of cold cuts
Excessive alcohol consumption can increase blood pressure and contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease. Some studies have shown that people who drink alcohol in moderation have a slightly lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Moderate drinking is one to two drinks per day and no more than 10 per week for women, and two drinks per day and no more than 15 drinks per week for men.

One drink corresponds to :
  • 250ml of beer
  • 12.5 cl of wine
  • 2.5 cl of strong alcohol
Added sugars
It is advisable to limit the addition of refined sugar and to reduce the consumption of foods that contain it.

The main sources of concentrated sugars are:
  • White sugar, brown sugar
  • Honey, jams, jellies, spreads, caramel
  • Glucose-fructose syrup
  • Pastries, viennoiseries, confectionery
  • Cookies
  • Breakfast cereals and cereal bars
  • Sweet and savoury sauces from shops
  • Flavored milk and yogurt
  • Flavored milk drinks, syrups and fruit juices
  • Sweetened compotes, canned fruits
  • Liqueurs, sweet wines, sodas
The average consumption of sodium in the form of salt in France varies from 2000 to 4800 mg per day, which is significantly higher than the recommended intake of 1500 mg per day. Several studies have shown that high sodium intake significantly increases the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. The main sources of sodium are prepared and prepackaged foods. In fact, more than 75% of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods such as cheeses, deli meats, pizzas, sauces and soups, and dried or smoked foods.

What about cholesterol?
Dietary cholesterol is thought to have adverse effects only in some people who produce too much of it. The main sources of dietary cholesterol are egg yolks, shrimps and crayfish and offal. It is therefore not recommended to avoid these foods but to consume them in moderation. Studies show that for a healthy person with no history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes or high cholesterol, eating an average of one egg per day (7/week) does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in the long term.

Other foods not recommended:
  • Stress
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Tobacco
  • Industrial and refined products

Practical daily advice to follow the diet for cardiovascular diseases

  • Replace traditional starchy foods with whole grains: brown rice, whole grain pasta, etc.
  • Eat fruit with the skin on as much as possible
  • Include more dried fruit in yogurt or as a snack
  • Eat legumes at least once a week and include them in soups, salads and dishes
  • As a snack or as an appetizer, consider eating homemade hummus
  • Choose fiber-enriched cereals, containing at least 4g per serving
  • When baking, replace white flour with wholemeal flour
  • Add wheat or oat bran to your dishes and desserts
  • Think of oleaginous fruits as a snack or dessert
  • Buy as many low-sodium products as possible (less than 320 mg per serving)
  • Avoid canned food
  • Consume low-fat dairy products regularly
  • Opt for unsalted nuts
  • Avoid using salt shakers at the table and always taste before adding salt
  • Avoid prepared meals, industrial products and fast food
  • To give taste without salt, think of spices, herbs and lemon juice
  • Eat oily fish at least twice a week

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