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Cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer worldwide. One third of all deaths are related to heart disease or stroke.
Fortunately, fatalities due to cardiac events have declined over the years, mainly due to advancements in medical intervention. However, in the last twenty years, this decline has begun to level off.
“Trends in cardiovascular disease mortality are no longer declining for high-income regions,” noted Dr. Gregory Roth, an assistant professor of cardiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in an American College of Cardiology news release, “and low- and middle-income countries are also seeing more cardiovascular disease-related deaths.”
It seems clear to me that although medical professionals have become very skilled at reacting to a cardiac event, it is not enough. In fact, for many individuals, the first cardiac event they experience is death, and of course at this point, medical interventions cannot help.
It goes back to the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. So perhaps it is time we focus more on the prevention than the cure.
Here are five heart healthy habits you can start to implement today to help prevent heart disease:
1. Keep blood sugar balanced
Diabetes is one of the common risk factors to heart disease. So, it would make sense that preventing diabetes will also help to prevent heart disease. You can do this by avoiding refined sugar. However, diabetics know that managing blood sugar is about more than just avoiding sweets. It’s about consuming balanced meals that take into account both the glycemic index and glycemic load of carbohydrate-rich foods. It’s also about learning how to pair carbohydrates together with complete proteins and healthy fats to make a satisfying blood-sugar-balancing meal.
2. Eat Omega-3 Fatty Acid Rich Foods
This healthy fat is important for reducing inflammation and protecting your heart. Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds and walnuts, as well as fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring (think of the acronym SMASH). It can be as simple as sprinkling hemp seeds on your oatmeal, tossing walnuts in your salad, or trading in inflammatory white fish for a nice piece of wild salmon. It is not only important to consume these foods, but also to keep omega-3 fatty acids in balance with omega-6 fatty acids.
3. Eat Antioxidant-Rich Foods
In order to understand the importance of antioxidants, we must first understand free radicals. Free radicals are free roaming unstable atoms that can damage our bodies’ tissue by “stealing” our electrons. If you do not have a background in chemistry, that’s alright; all you need to know is that antioxidants neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are everywhere in pollution, chemicals, toxins, and processed foods (particularly fried foods). These free radicals can damage the arterial lining causing atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries.) While changes to diet and lifestyle can help to reduce free radical damage, we cannot avoid it all together. This is why it is important to consume lots of antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Selenium, Vitamin E, and beta-carotene are all abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other healthy foods, such as nuts and seeds.
4. Avoid Processed Foods
Chips, salad dressing, crackers, cookies; almost any packaged food contains damaged omega-6 oils (ie vegetable oil, palm oils, canola oils). High consumption of these products will create an imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Furthermore, as these fats can become damaged easily by heat and light, this causes them to oxidize, causing free radicals. As discussed above, these free radicals can cause damage to the arterial lining. This is why the best way to prevent heart disease is to consume more fresh foods and less packaged foods.
5. Manage Stress
I know this is easier said than done. However, stress is a strong contributing factor to heart disease, among other chronic illnesses. Stress management should become part of your health routine, along with exercise and eating healthy. Whether you use meditation, yoga, or just make time for yourself, stress management is an important habit to cultivate.
If you are looking to make changes to your food habits in order to improve your heart health, we can help. Just reach out to us via text, call, DM or email.
Certified Nutritionist Kirsten creates heart-healthy meals for her family. She shares her delicious recipes, colourful food pics and fibre-rich healthy food ideas on our Instagram page at @essentialbalanceholistic.