Spring has sprung. Not only can you feel it in the air, but also as the days get longer and the sun shines brighter. And with the arrival of spring, it's a great time to do some spring cleaning, not just in our houses, but also our diets. If you indulged a little too much over the winter on rich comfort foods, use this time to switch to something a bit lighter and heart-healthy.
When we think about our heart health and diet, we may start thinking of ways to eliminate salt, saturated fats and processed foods from our diets. While reducing our intake of these items can definitely help decrease our risk of heart disease, there are other foods we should add.
Why? Because some foods can help treat or prevent heart disease. And since Health Canada states that heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada despite being largely preventable, it's a good idea to start paying attention to what foods to eat to improve our cardiovascular health, most of which can be found in one heart-healthy diet to take note of, the Portfolio diet.
This spring let's focus on cleaning up our diet by adding foods that are proven to benefit your heart.
Full of fibre, heart healthy fats, vitamin E and protein, eating nuts regularly has actually been linked to lower levels of inflammation, a marker for heart disease. Plus, snacking on nuts can help reduce your risk of developing blood clots that can lead to a heart attack and may even improve the health of the lining of your arteries. If you're allergic to nuts, swap them for seeds, such as pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Alternatively you can opt for a 2 tablespoon portion of nut butter. Add nuts or seeds to salads, like a crunchy apple and beet slaw, hot or cold cereals, homemade trail mixes or use nut butters as dips for apples or in a salad dressing.
Barley, Oats and Legumes
These foods are often recommended for heart health because they're full of fibre, which helps to slow the digestion and absorption of foods. These ingredients all have a particular type of fibre, called out in the Portfolio diet, known as viscous fibre, or soluble fibre, which not only lowers blood cholesterol but can also help decrease the risk of developing heart disease and type II diabetes. This is because it slowly increases blood sugars after a meal, thereby lowering insulin levels. One serving of these foods is equal to half a cup of cooked barley, three-quarters of a cup cooked oats (steel-cut being the least processed) and three-quarters of a cup of legumes, including dried beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas. To reap the benefits of these ingredients, incorporate one to two servings at least three to four times a week.
Research indicates that soy can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and improve arterial health because of its favourable fatty acid profile, protein and isoflavone content. This is especially true when soy is used in place of protein-rich foods that are high in saturated fats, such as certain cuts of meat and high-fat dairy. Studies suggest that 25 grams of soy per day can lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as LDL cholesterol, by 5-6%. Each of the servings listed provide around 8-10 grams of soy protein: one cup of fortified soy beverage, half a cup of edamame, 85 grams extra-firm tofu. For a larger dose, one scoop of soy protein powder provides 15-30 grams of soy protein.
Thanks to its high ALA content, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, flaxseed can help to normalize blood pressure, reduce blood cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease. According an approved claim from Health Canada, ground flaxseed helps to lower cholesterol when a daily amount of 40 gram (5 tablespoons) is add to meals and snacks throughout the day, but as little as 2 tablespoons provides adult men and women with double the amount of ALA needed in a day. The best part is ground flaxseed is that it's easy to add to just about anything including smoothies, oats, homemade muffins or granola bars.
Néma McGlynn is a registered dietitian with Loblaws. She is part of a network of more than 70 dietitians who provide free services like one-on-one consultations, assisted shopping, school tours and recipe ideas at locations across the country.
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