Love your heart by choosing heart-healthy plant-based foods more often
The month of February might feature Valentine’s chocolate, but with 1.3 million Canadians living with heart disease it’s also a time to focus on hearthealthy foods.
A healthy, balanced diet should consist of a variety of natural, whole and minimally processed foods, says Carol Dombrow, a Heart and Stroke Foundation dietitian.
“This message ... is never going to change. No matter what they find, whatever new research comes out, this is still going to be an important message,” she says.
The thinking on healthy eating has changed in recent years. Rather than focusing on single nutrients and highly restrictive diets that aren’t sustainable, research shows the overall quality of one’s diet is more important.
“We’re asking people to eat more vegetables and fruit, to have a variety of protein sources, so include beans and legumes, include lower-fat dairy and alternatives, lean meat, poultry, fish. Have whole grains more often and stay away from highly processed foods,” the Toronto-based dietitian says.
Heart disease is the secondleading cause of death and the leading cause of disability, says Dombrow. Nine in 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
But many risk factors are in your power to control. This includes having a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and smoke-free, limiting alcohol consumption and reducing stress. It’s also important to manage blood cholesterol levels and diabetes, also a risk factor for heart disease, she adds.
“The simplest message is to make half your plate vegetables and fruit. They’re going to give you so many nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre,” says Dombrow. “They’re positive from a healthy weight perspective.”
The rest of the plate should be one-quarter each whole grains and lean protein.
There’s a strong body of research showing the Mediterranean diet has been linked to better heart health, says registered dietitian Zannat Reza. This traditional way of eating in Italy and Greece includes a high ratio of vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, pulses and olive oil.
Reza likes to put a Canadian spin on it, featuring hearthealthy ingredients grown and produced in this country.