Lifestyle tips for a healthy heart

Did you know that heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide? This means that people are more likely to die from heart-related diseases than from cancer, HIV/Aids, lung diseases or strokes. In this article, I will discuss how to support heart health naturally.

Artherosclerosis (clogging and inflammation of the arteries) causes a number of different heart diseases. This happens when the arteries collect a build-up of plaque as a result of cholesterol sticking to the artery walls. The immune system then acts by sending white blood cells to attack the cholesterol. The white blood cells form a plaque over the cholesterol to protect the body from this invader lining the artery walls. The end result is blockages in the arteries, which prevents blood from flowing freely through the body, and in severe cases, heart attacks.

The good news is that there are many natural ways to support heart health. A focus on lowering LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol), and increasing HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), will help prevent plaque build-up in the arteries, and dramatically improve quality of life.

It is more difficult to remove plaque build-ups than to prevent build up in the first place, so the earlier you start adopting a healthy lifestyle, the more your heart will thank you in the years to come. Here are some top tips to support keeping your arteries clear:

What makes it worse?

First thing’s first – what do you need to avoid for better cardiovascular health?

Trans fats

Trans fats are found in the majority of commercial junk foods such as cakes, cookies, chocolates, and potato crisps. Margarine, and heated vegetable oils such as sunflower, soy, and canola, are also major sources of trans fats. When consuming vegetable oils make sure that they are cold pressed.

Refined sugar

As covered in previous articles, refined sugar consumption plays a major role in poor health. From a heart health perspective, refined sugar leads to dangerous small LDL cholesterol production, lowers HDL, increases triglycerides and increases inflammation, all of which increases the chance of arterial damage.

Make sure to avoid soft drinks, sugary sweets and baked goods, and adding table sugar or syrups to foods.

Low-fibre foods

Cut out low-fibre foods such as white flours, refined maize and rice. Make sure you eat a diet rich in unprocessed wholegrains (e.g. brown rice, whole wheat flour, rolled oats), legumes, and fruits and vegetables. The soluble fibre found in these foods help to lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Excess weight

Carrying extra body weight increases LDL cholesterol levels. A natural result of healthy eating and exercise is weight loss, so start by making simple changes today.

Smoking and excess alcohol consumption

Quitting smoking is linked to a vast number of health improvements, including an improvement in HDL cholesterol levels. Excess alcohol consumption can also negatively impact your heart health by elevating cholesterol levels. If you do drink, research shows that moderate drinking (one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men) can have a protective effect on the heart1, but more than that should be avoided.

Foods to promote healthy arteries

The good news is that we don’t only have to cut things out of our diets to ensure good heart health – we can also introduce a wonderful selection of health-promoting foods to our diet to keep our arteries in shape 2, 3.

Garlic

This flavourful bulb is not only a culinary wonder – it also helps to regress arterial plaque build-up. Use it in roast veg, in curries, stews. Chopped raw garlic in olive oil is also an excellent topping for pizzas and pastas, or mixed into salads and stir fries.

Tumeric

A large number of studies have found that curcumin, one of the main components in turmeric, helps to protect the cardiovascular system. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory, and can potentially help prevent the damage associated with blocked arteries. Try it in smoothies, curries, and grain dishes.

Fermented foods

Fermented foods such as kimchi or sauerkraut have been found to slow down, and even suspend, the process of artherosclerosis in animal studies.

Pomegranate

This bright red fruit has as many health benefits as it has seeds. One of these benefits is that, like garlic, it can regress arterial plaque build-up.

Cinnamon

This all-time favourite for sweet and savoury dishes can help to reduce LDL cholesterol, and help to clear out arterial plaque build-up. Sprinkle it on fruit, porridge, or toast, or use in smoothies and savoury curry dishes.

B-vitamins and L-arginine

High quality B-complex and L-arginine supplements have also been shown to reduce and prevent arterial thickening. Always read ingredient labels, and ask questions before purchasing supplements. If you would like more advice on choosing natural supplements visit me at Real Food Co.

Exercise

Exercise can improve your cardiovascular health and help prevent cardiac issues. If you’re not physically active, start slowly and build up your routine and your stamina. Aim to get 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days a week.

There are many simple and effective ways to support heart health – the key is just to take action.

Prevention is always better than cure, and with a few simple lifestyle and dietary changes you can start enjoying the benefits of taking control of your own health.

References:

1. Krans, B. (2015). Alcohol and cholesterol: Can drinking affect your heart health?. Available online: http://www.healthline.com/health/high-cholesterol/effects-of-alcohol

2. Ji, S. (2014). 7 Simple ways to unclog your arteries naturally. Available online: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/7-simple-ways-unclog-your-arteries-naturally

3. Wolfe, D. (2016). 10 foods that unclog arteries naturally and protect against heart attack. Available online: https://www.davidwolfe.com/10-foods-unclog-arteries/