By Dr Paul Palmer – Plant-Based Nutrition Consultant and Musculoskeletal Occupation Health Specialist
Have a change of heart by making small but significant adjustments to your overall lifestyle to reduce your risk of heart-related diseases and improve your overall heart health.
Remember when doctors prescribed “healthy” cigarettes and smoking as a something that was “good for you”? Luckily, much has changed over the last few decades. Preventative care is fast becoming an approach to health for many people. Yet heart disease – which can be prevented – is still one of the leading causes of deaths in the UK, according to the National Health Services (NHS) (1).
Once thought to only be a disease for the elderly, more than half of heart-related deaths now affect people under the age of 65 years, while over 17 million people die every year from cardiovascular disease, according the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization. It’s a staggering number when one considers that 80% of these premature deaths can be prevented by eating better, moving more and avoiding smoking.
As World Heart Day is falling on the 29th of September, I encourage you to make a few changes to your diet and lifestyle that will increase your longevity and improve your overall happiness!
So for this month I ask you to take the pledge to commit to your heart by going plant-based!
Why plant-based? By choosing to go meat-free, you reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol, the leading causes of an increased risk of heart disease.
Are you ready to make heart smart choices? Here are my top ten tips on how to get wholeheartedly healthy!
Overwhelming scientific evidence links the consumption of meat and animal products to numerous diseases. According to medical experts at the American Heart Association (AHA), eating saturated fat increases the amount of cholesterol present in the blood which results in an increased risk for heart disease and stroke (2). By replacing animal foods and highly refined carbs with whole plant foods is a proven way to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
A well-rounded diet should be abundant with veggies, leafy greens, legumes, beans, nuts, whole grains and fruit. These foods are rich in dietary fibre which helps to lower LDL cholesterol (AKA “bad cholesterol”). Fibre interacts with the bad cholesterol in your digestive tract and helps to remove it quickly from the body, decreasing the amount of LDL cholesterol absorbed.
Dr Michael Greger M.D. FACLM states that 97% of Americans are deficient in fibre (3). On average, we get only about 15 grams a day. The minimum daily requirement is 31.5 – so we get less than half of the minimum! The question shouldn’t be “Where do you get your protein?” but rather “Where do you get your fibre?” Low blood cholesterol levels can be achieved by replacing animal protein with plant protein like legumes, soy and oats, and with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats found in avocados, nuts and seeds.
Essential omega fats are important for a healthy heart, reducing risk of diabetes and helping to support normal cholesterol levels. They are called “essential” because our bodies cannot make them and as such, we need to get them from our food. And we don’t need fish to help us out. Plant-based sources of omega 6’s include hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts and soya-based foods. Get your omega 3’s in the form of chia, hemp and flax seeds.
Too much oil in one’s diet is not as heart-healthy as the media likes to suggest. According to physician and nutrition expert, Dr John McDougall, MD, foods rich in monounsaturated fats like olive oil may be healthier than foods rich in saturated and trans-fats like animal protein, but just because something is “healthier” does not mean it is good for you (4). Pouring oil over your food means you’re consuming a lot of fat. And eating a lot of fat, including “healthier” ones, means you’re eating a lot of calories, causing weight gain, and leading to an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and heart disease.
When cooking at home consider using an airfryer, stove or oven instead of a deep fryer. Additionally, think about cooking with less oil than normal as this is another simple way to eliminates saturated and hydrogenated fat.
A plant-based diet is rich in a host of nutrients that are heart-protective. Eat the rainbow and consume a colourful array of fruit and veggies that are rich in antioxidants, plant sterols, phytochemicals, iron and potassium, all thought to reduce the risk of heart disease. And if you crave meat, opt for one of Fry’s meat replacement products, such as the Chicken-Style Burger (my personal favourite) or the Golden Crumbed Schnitzels.
Soy ahoy! Soy plays a role in keeping your heart healthy as the protein found in soybeans has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. According to a study, soybeans contain additional components, such as isoflavones, lecithins, saponins and fibre that may be beneficial to cardiovascular health by improving blood pressure, glycemic control, obesity, and inflammation (5). Got Nuggets?
Any movement is better than sitting still when it comes to improving your heart health. Increase your cardiovascular fitness by running, cycling, circuit training or with high intensity interval training. These kinds of exercises cause the blood to pump much harder which forces the arterial wall to stretch, improving the elasticity of the arteries. Alternate between intensity and between upper and lower body exercises with minimal rest periods for maximum results.
Weight training is as important for building muscle mass as it is for building a strong heart. After all, your heart is a muscle! Lifting weights or using your own body weight is effective in burning fat, improving bone health and strengthening your heart. Yoga is also great for strength and muscle toning. Different styles of yoga like Ashtanga or Power Vinyasa keeps your heart elevated throughout the class, giving you a combined strength and cardio workout!
The chemicals in tobacco smoke harm your blood cells, the function of your heart, and the structure and function of your blood vessels. This damage increases your risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, leading to raised blood pressure, chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmias, and death. Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke can help reverse heart and blood vessel damage and reduce heart disease risk.
By eating a plant-based diet, or reducing your meat consumption, you are not only eating a diet that is good for your heart, but it also means you are you are making a powerful ethical statement. By avoiding animal-based products from your diet, you withdraw support from cruelty to animals. Choosing to back the production of cruelty-free foods means you are not only cooking for your heart, but also with your heart.
Take a moment each day to take some deep breaths, acknowledge what you have in your life and to create positive affirmations. Slowing down and taking moments to be grateful have been linked with better health, greater well-being and a longer, happier life!
If you know of someone who you think may benefit from reading this article or who suffers from a heart-related disease, please share it with them! It may just save their life!