As February is American Heart Health Month, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to discuss how we can decrease our risk of heart disease through diet. It is important to note that our lifestyle such as our environment, activity level and lifestyle habits play a big role as well, but for the purposes of this blog, I am just focusing on dietary intake as 1/3 of mortality from cardiovascular disease is related to our dietary intake.

Below are 5 dietary lifestyle changes you can take to help promote a healthy heart throughout your lifetime. If you are interested in discussing an optimal diet for you in order to maintain a healthy heart, please contact me today at or book online today at

1. Enjoy a well-balanced intake of protein, fibre, fats and colour.
A well-balanced diet is the best way to reduce the risk of heart disease for several reasons. Eating healthy, well-balanced meals helps decrease the risk for mid-section obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease due to its link to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. If you are prone to weight gain around the waist, it is vital to stay at a healthy weight as central obesity increases the risk for heart disease. Obesity is related to low HDL cholesterol levels (the good cholesterol), raised triglycerides (fatty acids in the blood) and increased LDL cholesterol levels as well as high blood pressure and systemic inflammation, all of which are related to heart disease.

A well balanced diet also promotes the intake of all vitamins and minerals as well as plant-based phytonutrients, each having its own role in heart health. For example, potassium found in meat and dairy as well as whole, intact grains, vegetables and nuts and seeds, protects against high blood pressure. Calcium, found in dairy, nuts, fish bones, green vegetables and legumes, also reduces blood pressure. Folic acid and other B vitamins protect against CVD as they lower homocysteine levels in the blood, an amino acid linked to heart disease. Other honourable mentions for heart health include magnesium and Vitamin D.

2. Increase intake of fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables are high in fibre, heart healthy vitamins and minerals and antioxidants as well as other disease fighting compounds such as polyphenols. Each colour of the rainbow found in fruits and vegetables represents various antioxidants associated with heart health. For example, Vitamin A, or beta carotene, found in orange and green vegetables is a potent antioxidant that reduces the oxidation of plaque on blood vessel walls.

3. Increase intake of dietary fibre and reduce intake of processed sugars.
Fibre is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains legumes and nuts and seeds. Both types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, play a role in preventing heart disease. Insoluble fibre increases satiation, decreases blood sugar spikes and controls stool transit time and soluble fibre helps decrease modulate cholesterol levels. Refined sugar increases triglyceride levels, (fatty acids in the blood). Triglycerides are a strong risk factor for heart disease.  

4. Reduce intake of sodium from boxed, frozen, canned and fast foods.
As sodium promotes fluid retention, it influences blood pressure levels. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for heart disease. Although we can safely consume up to 2300mg/day, most North Americans consume double that amount. Up to 75% of our total sodium intake comes from packaged, processed and canned foods. Choose fresh grains, fruits and vegetables in order to decrease sodium levels and to keep your heart healthy. You DO however, want to use iodized salt in cooking because we NEED salt for health, but the amount of salt in processed foods and fast foods is just way too much.

5. Replace some saturated fats with unsaturated fats and AVOID trans fats.
Focus on increasing intake of unsaturated fats such as mono and polyunsaturated fats instead of focusing on decreasing overall fat intake. Our bodies rely on fat for cell membrane structure, fuel reserves, brain and heart health and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, etc. Also, diets too low in fat reduce HDL, a protective form of cholesterol.

Research shows that replacing some animal/dairy fats (saturated) fats with UNSATURATED fats such as Omega 3’s and monounsaturated fats found in extra virgin olive oil, olives, nuts and seeds, avocado and fatty fish reduces the risk of heart disease. HOWEVER, replacing saturated fat with starches and sugars actually INCREASE the risk of heart disease.

We need to AVOID trans fats, completely. Trans fats increase LDL cholesterol levels AND lower HDL levels and therefore, should be avoided. In order to avoid trans fats, do not use shortening or foods with ‘partially hydrogenated shortening’ on the label. Fast food and deep fried foods are also common sources of trans fat.

Happy reading and have a heart healthy month!

Eat Well Nova Scotia,
Nicole Marchand, RD

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *