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A Heart-Healthy Diet

Like many diseases, cardiovascular problems can often be attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle. A poor diet or overeating can make people more prone to vascular and heart disease. Food-related risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes and eating lots of saturated fats.  

In addition to exercise, eating sensibly can go a long way towards improving your general health and quality of life.

A woman and a man in the kitchen preparing a salad

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

It is always worth keeping an eye on your weight. If you are at a healthy weight, it is easier to exercise and be active and it helps take the strain off your heart. You can see if you are overweight by calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a rough guideline to evaluate a person's weight. If you have a BMI over 30, losing weight is an important way to improve your health and help your heart. 

Elder hand holding a gym weight

Eating Right

Eat a balanced diet and be aware of what you are eating – not too much and not too much fat or salt. When you eat, opt for  

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains and nuts
  • Fish and poultry
  • Plant-based fats and oils (because of their unsaturated fatty acids)
  • Low-fat dairy products 
  • Vegetarian dishes 

If you are aiming for a heart-healthy diet, go easy on red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates and foods and beverages with added sugar and sodium. Also avoid foods with trans fats which increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke and type 2 diabetes and have an unhealthy effect on cholesterol levels. They are usually contained in fried foods or refrigerated dough. 

Older man preparing a healthy breakfast

Drinking Right

Water is critical for a healthy heart. Your heart is constantly working, pumping more than 8,000 liters of blood every day. If you are dehydrated, the amount of blood circulating through your body decreases. To compensate, your heart beats faster, increasing your heart rate and your blood pressure. By drinking more water than you are losing, you are helping your heart do its job.  

Be aware that any drink can contribute to your daily water intake, but that the caffeine in caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, certain teas and soda, acts as a diuretic and can cause you to lose more fluids. Excess sugar in soda can also make it harder for the body to absorb water. 

If you are suffering from heart failure, check with your physician first how much liquid you can drink a day. When you have heart failure, fluid can build up causing swelling in your feet, legs or belly making your heart work harder. Fluid can also build up in your lungs, which may cause you to have trouble breathing. Usually, one to two liters a day are allowed.

Older woman drinking water out of a bottle

Avoiding Alcohol and Nicotine

Alcohol and nicotine can contribute to and worsen heart disease. Excessive alcohol intake can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure or stroke. Alcohol is also a source of excess calories and can contribute to weight gain and obesity and the long list of health problems that can go with it. Alcohol may also trigger serious palpitations in heart patients, meaning that their heart may feel like it's pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly. 

Nicotine, a chemical contained in cigarettes and other tobacco products, can damage your heart and vascular system. It can lead to high blood pressure, can make your heart race, your arteries too narrow and it can increase the blood flow to your heart. In addition, nicotine might also contribute to making your artery walls stiffer. 

It is therefore ideal to give up smoking altogether and only drink alcohol in moderation, and after eating.

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