Stop aging by eating healthily to lower cholesterol, boost blood flow, reduce cell damage and lower risks of heart disease and type II diabetes.
1. Eat Plants - Not Foods Made in a "Plant"
Many studies including the American Heart Foundation encourage a plant based diet to reduce risk of heart disease. The more variety of vegetables the better – potatoes and french fries do not count.
Vegetables are exploding with nutritional vitamins, minerals, fibre, special phytonutrients, antioxidants and potent anti-inflammatories.
- Asparagus, bell peppers, and bok choy are rich sources of B vitamins (especially vitamin B6) which helps lower homocysteine (an amino acid linked to heart disease) and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation).
- Carrots and tomatoes, oranges and bananas, are rich in carotenoids including lycopene, an important antioxidant.
- Leafy greens like rocket, lettuce, beets, kale, spinach are all rich sources of nitrates, a form of nitrogen absorbed from the soil. During digestion, that compound is converted into an important gas: nitric oxide, which makes arteries resist contraction, plaque, and blood coagulation, so strokes and heart attacks can’t occur.
Tip: Add greens to everything soups, sandwiches, smoothies, and whatever else you can think of.
2. Omega 3
Many people are Omega 3 deficient.
Omega 3 benefits:
- heart and arteries reducing blood pressure, reducing formation of clots, plaque and inflammation
- eye health
- brain and memory health
- fighting inflammation and autoimmune disease
- reducing fat in live and potentially bone and joint health
- great for your skin
How to Get Omega 3 in Your Diet
Sources of plant based omega 3s *– ALA – mg/serve
- Nuts and Seeds 30g serve: Walnuts 1,884, Pecans 186, Hazelnuts 36, Tahini 36
- Chia Seeds 15g serve: 2,685
- Flaxseeds also known as Linseeds 1 tsp or 4g: 922
- Fats and Oils 1T or 30g serve: Flaxseed/Linseed 10,918, Canola 1,820, Soybean 1,434, Olive Oil 92
Sources of marine based omega 3s* – EPA and DHA
– Fresh fish 150g serve:
- > 500mg – mullet, Atlantic salmon, mackerel, Australian salmon, sardine, silver perch, rainbow trout, bream
- 400-500mg – yellow-tail kingfish, Australian herring, trevally, snapper, flounder, mirror dory, jack mackerel, tuna
– Canned fish – 100g serve
- >1500 mg – canned sardines, salmon
- 500-1500 mg- canned salmon (some varieties), tuna, mussels, anchovies, Atlantic pickled herring, smoked oysters
– Seafood – 100g serve
- 500-1000mg – green and blue mussels
- 300-500mg – squid, calamari, oysters
- <300mg – scallops, prawns, octopus, crab, lobster, Moreton Bay bug
*This information sourced from National Heart Foundation of Australia 2015
The Heart Foundation of Australia recommends aiming for:
- 2-3 serves of fish (including oily fish) per week for 250-500mg of marine sourced omega 3s (EPA and DHA) AND
- 1 gram of plant sources ALA omega 3 each day
3. Fibre - Whole Grains
Many whole grains are good sources of dietary fibre, which we all need as part of a balanced diet.
Refined grains contain little or not fibre.
In addition to fibre grains provide additional nutrients like thiamin (Vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), niacin (Vitamin B3), folate (Vitamin B9), iron, magnesium and selenium which body form new cells, carry oxygen in the blood, regulate the thyroid and maintain a healthy immune system.
Eat a variety of whole grains, like whole-wheat breads, pasta and brown rice. Limit refined grains like white rice and white bread.
Dietary fibre can help you improve blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and even type 2 diabetes.
Bonus: Fibre can also help if you are trying to lose weight as fibre can help you feel full, so you’ll be satisfied with less calories. Try adding fibre like oats LSA (linseed, sesame, almond) and soaked chia seeds to your smoothies.
4. Fibre - Other Sources
Soluble fibre is found in legumes, lentils and vegetables and according to the Mayo Clinic can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your blood stream.
The American Heart Association explains eating high-fibre foods help control blood sugar and blood cholesterol, and they help keep you full.
So think more legumes and less meat. Maybe start by replacing one meat-based meal per week with legumes (cannellini beans, lentils, chickpeas etc)
Try these meat free, diary free recipes for inspiration.
5. Spices and Herbs
Spices and Herbs are concentrate from plants, so they contain the same protective chemicals that plants use to ward off pests and disease. When we consume these chemicals from spices, they protect the cells in our body from disease too. Because it is concentrated consider using organic to minimise your exposure to pesticides.
Tip: Try getting used to adding turmeric, ginger, cinnamon etc to everything from your chia pudding in the morning to savoury dishes and salad dressings. Other great spices are allspice and nutmeg. Mix a variety of spices and herbs with extra virgin olive oil add a little apple cider vinegar and use with salads, soups, potatoes, side dishes, anything really for fresh, health flavour.
The allium in garlic has been shown to improve blood cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and lower the risk of developing heart disease.
Turmeric is rich in curcumin, which has been shown to reduce cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar and has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
Research has shown that turmeric may also improve memory and Alzheimer’s, ease depression by boosting serotonin and dopamine which improve mood and help new cells grow.
Tip: Team turmeric with black pepper to boost its bioavailability by up to 2000%!
Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory herb that has been shown to thin the blood.
Tip: For me I only like fresh ginger, organic if possible. It is not too difficult to grow in your garden. Try this article from Preparedness Mama about growing your own ginger.
The sweet spice cinnamon may improve blood flow and help normalise blood sugar.
Broccoli is packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidants which can help protect the brain against damage.
It is also very high in vitamin K which studies have shown assists memory.
Have one cup of broccoli to achieve your daily intake of vitamin K.
11. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds also known as pepita, are an excellent source of magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium and copper and their powerful antioxidants protect the body and brain from damage.
A deficiency in zinc is linked to Alzheimers, depression and Parkinson’s disease, copper helps control nerve signals and magnesium is essential for learning, memory and may improve mood and sleep.
Magnesium is also associated with greater bone density and has been shown to decrease the risk of osteoporosis in women after menopause.
The manganese in pumpkin seeds also plays a role in collagen production and promotes skin and bone health.
They are little powerhouses of nutrients and health benefits. Like nuts, pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein and healthy oils, including omega-3. Seeds in general are considered excellent sources of potassium, magnesium and calcium.
Nuts are a good source of protein, healthy fats and dietary fibre.
They provide a wide range of essential nutrients, including minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium, several B group vitamins (including folate), vitamin E, antioxidant minerals (selenium, manganese and copper), plus other phytochemicals and antioxidants.
In addition to protein, fibre and fats each variety contains its own unique combination of nutrients for example:
- Walnuts: plant omega 3, alpha linoleic acid and antioxidants
- Almonds: calcium and vitamin E
- Brazil nuts: just two brazil nuts a day provides 100% RDI for selenium for an adult
- Cashews: plant based iron and a low GI rating
- Hazelnuts: potassium, folate, vitamin E
- Pine nuts: vitamin E and the arginine amino acid
- Pistachios: potassium, plant sterols and the antioxidant resveratrol
Studies suggest a handful (about 30g) of nuts per day may reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 30-50% and reduce the risk of death from heart disease by around 20%.
A small handful of nuts each day is not associated with a weight gain, and may help reduce the risk of obesity. The healthy fats in nuts can help you feel fuller, which helps to control appetite. Nuts are a much better snack option than biscuits, cakes, chips etc.
Good ways to include nuts and seeds in your diet are:
- sprinkling seeds onto a salad
- mixing nuts and seeds for a snack
- choosing seeded bread
- adding seeds to cereal, porridge, chia pudding or yogurt
13. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are also a good source of fibre, protein, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. Chia is also a great plant source of omega 3 and all the associated health benefits.
Soaking chia, activates the seeds and maximises the benefits by making it more bio-available to your body. You can soak them overnight, 2-3 hours will get a good gel-like consistency and if you are in a hurry soaking for 15 minutes works too. They can absorb up to 10 times their own weight – use water or a nut milk like almond milk is very nice. Stir them well otherwise they tend to clump and not absorb the liquid.
Tip: Mix chia into smoothies, salad dressings, oatmeal, have with yoghurt or make a lovely chia pudding (so easy) using whatever you have to hand. Check out these recipes for inspiration from Minimalist Baker and Wellness Mama.
14. Unsaturated Fats
Avocados, olives, and nuts have good unsaturated fats that are nutritional options to avoid clogged arteries and have protective properties for your heart.
The Heart Foundation have found that avocados and nuts are linked to a reduction in LDL cholesterol.
Tip: Try using high fibre crackers with almond butter or avocado for a snack.
15. The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet encompasses the principles above for a healthy anti-aging diet.
The Mayo Clinic reports that most if not all major scientific organisations encourage healthy adults to adapt the Mediterranean Diet for heart health, with studies also showing a strong link for reduced incidence of cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Harvard School of Public Health say a diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check.
The Mediterranean Diet Prioritises:
- Eating primarily plant-based foods – vegetables are exploding with nutritional vitamins, minerals, fibre, special phytonutrients, antioxidants and potent anti-inflammatories.
- Whole grains, fruits, legumes and nuts – almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts are great for a quick snack or add them to your salad or vegetables.
- Extra virgin olive oil instead of butter.
- Spices and herbs for flavouring rather than salt – turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, basil, coriander etc
- Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month.
- Eating fish and poultry, especially oily fish for Omega 3 benefits.
- Enjoying meals with family and friends.
The Heart Foundation New Zealand have some healthy recipes for you to try.
Understanding Food Labels
Look for foods with:
- Less energy (kilojoules) if you want to lose weight.
- Lower saturated fat to reduce heart disease.
- Low sodium, which is the harmful part of salt and can raise your blood pressure.
- Low sugar. Sugar can occur naturally or can be added. Added sugar adds energy (kilojoules) not not nutrients.
The Heart Foundation of New Zealand has a great explanation of what to look for on food labels.
This is intended as information and not medical advice. Everyone is different so please consult your medical professional.