by Emily Neill
Food is very close to our hearts here at allplants, so writing about how food helps our hearts seemed like a no brainer!
Our hearts have been closely linked to our overall wellbeing for centuries. We now know that the heart isn’t as responsible for romantic love as was once believed, but there are still plenty of reasons to show your heart some love.
We spoke to our friend and fellow lover of food, Clare Logan. Clare is a registered Dietitian and elite sports nutritionist and here’s what we learned about looking after our hearts…
Our hearts are amazing, finely tuned biological machines, so what we eat and how much we move impacts our heart health. And like every other part of our bodies, giving our hearts the right foods is the best way to look after them. Our diet affects the cholesterol levels in our blood, and blood pressure, which are both closely linked to heart health.
A healthy diet includes essential fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and plenty of fibre too! Well balanced vegan diets which are rich in beans, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables, wholegrain (such as oats and rice) and cereal-based foods like breads and pasta provide all the nutrients needed for good heart health.
Wholegrain foods include more of the natural grain they’re made from – literally, the whole of the grain! This means they contain more nutrients, such as B vitamins, vitamin E, healthy fats and also dietary fibre. Choose wholemeal flour, wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta and brown rice to give yourself more wholegrain goodness. Or you could incorporate bulgar wheat or quinoa into your lunches and dinners, and add whole oats or whole wheat cereals to your breakfast bowl.
There are several types of fats and these have different effects on the heart. When it comes to healthy hearts, we’re looking for those notorious “good fats”. Moderate amounts of unsaturated fat (found in foods such as avocados; nuts; seeds; and sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils) have been shown to increase levels of “good” cholesterol (high density lipo-protein), as well as reducing “bad” cholesterol. If you’re a regular grazer, no problem – nuts and seeds make great snacks. Or why not try some walnuts and sunflower seeds as a tasty topping for salads or porridge?
Trans fats, or trans-fatty acids, are a form of unsaturated fat and they come in both natural and artificial forms. Those found in processed foods are associated with increased risk of heart disease, so choosing fresh, wholefoods over processed foods (such as pastries, fried food and takeaways) is a good way to look out for your heart.
You may have heard of Omega-3, and this is another consideration. It’s famous in the world of fats because of the strong evidence behind it’s link to good heart health. The best vegan sources of Omega-3 are:
Saturated fat is found mainly in animal products and is linked with raised levels of “bad” cholesterol (low density lipo-protein). So, eating more plant-based foods instead can also contribute towards looking after your heart. In fact, vegetarian and vegan diets could reduce risk of heart disease by 22% while a pescatarian diet has been connected with 13% reduced risk.
Fruit and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, fibre and other natural plant-based nutrients such as antioxidants which help protect your heart. Fresh, frozen, tinned, and dried varieties all count!
At the top of the list, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries are packed full of heart-healthy antioxidants (phytonutrients) and fibre. We regularly add raspberries and blueberries to our overnight oats, and they add a fresh and fruity kick to yogurt, pancakes, or ice cream. Berries are our favourites for bringing a delicate tart sweetness while helping to boost your heart health.
Popeye was right after all – spinach packs a punch! As does kale, swiss chard, collard/mustard greens and bok choy. Broccoli and asparagus are also filled with mighty nutrients including vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, and fibre.
Fruit and vegetables such as carrots, kale, orange peppers, tomatoes, kiwi fruit, pineapple are super heart healthy foods too. Don’t just put a rainbow on your social media just now…enjoy a rainbow coloured variety of fruit and vegetables on your plate too
You might know the old rhyme: “beans, beans, good for your heart” (we’ll leave it there). Well, turns out it’s true! Dried beans and lentils such as black, kidney, garbanzo, or pinto are packed with goodness, including lots of protein which helps the body heal and make new tissue, such as heart muscle (as well as bone, hair, and skin). They’re also full of fibre, iron and other vitamins that offer many health benefits.
The soya bean contains a range of essential nutrients including high quality plant protein, essential fatty acids and a range of vitamins and minerals too. Most plant-based dairy alternatives (milks and cheeses) even come fortified (with bonus calcium, vitamin B12 and D – particularly beneficial to anyone enjoying a plant-based diet). Soya products, such as milk alternatives and tofu, as well oats are also thought to have additional benefits due to their impact on lowering cholesterol.
What’s great about these foods is how versatile they are. You can include them in warming meals like soups and stews (vegan chilli anyone?) as well as fresh salads. They’re a much better source of protein for your heart than animal-derived foods because they contain more unsaturated and less saturated fats.
Our bodies do need some salt to function but too much of it and the sodium it contains isn’t good for our hearts. Adding more fresh herbs and tasty spices to your recipes and less salt is a great way of reducing your salt intake whilst creating delicious and flavourful meals.
So there you have it – it’s important to show your heart some love, and fuelling your heart with the right nutrients is the best way to do so. If you’re on a mission to give yours some TLC, here are six practical tips to takeaway with you:
1. Enjoy five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
2. Eat plenty of peas, beans, and lentils.
3. Choose foods that are high in fibre (there are high fibre options in breakfast cereals, breads, rice and pasta, and don’t forget your beans, peas, and lentils!).
4. Snack on fruit, unsalted nuts, seeds, high fibre cereals or oatcakes.
5. Enjoy fresh and wholefoods.
6. Switch salt for herbs and spices.