September 29th marks World Heart Day, an opportunity to raise awareness of the impact diet can have on heart health. Did you know cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the primary cause of death worldwide, and in England, CVD is the second most common cause of death?
Factors like age, gender, ethnicity, and family history can increase your risk of CVD, and unfortunately, you cannot change these. For example, if you’re South Asian, African, or African Caribbean in the UK, your risk of developing some heart and circulatory diseases can be higher than white Europeans. However, there are many more modifiable factors that you can control in order to reduce your overall risk of suffering with these diseases. These include monitoring blood lipid levels, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, smoking, activity levels and your fat to muscle ratio.
Excluding exercise and smoking, all of the above can be modified by dietary changes - great news! We know that improving your diet can help modify many inflammatory processes which can lead to heart disease and there is clear evidence over nearly 30 years showing the effect of dietary interventions on the various measures of heart disease burden (G.F. Watts et al., 1992).
Importance of Dietary Patterns
Over the past decade, recommended dietary guidelines surrounding heart health have undergone a shift from single nutrient-based approaches to dietary pattern-based approaches. One example of this is following the Mediterranean diet - this diet varies by country and region, so it has a range of definitions, but in general it includes high amounts of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and wholegrains; a moderate amount of unsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, dairy products, fish, and poultry; and low intakes of red meat and wine, saturated fats, and simple sugars. This dietary pattern has seen a reduction of major CVD events by 30% and decrease of type 2 diabetes incidence.
The Portfolio diet is another good example of an evidence-based dietary pattern shown to reduce CVD risk factors. More specifically, this works on lowering cholesterol, by including more soy protein, plant sterols, nuts, and soluble fibre in the diet. Reports show marked reductions in LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, and triglycerides (L. Chiavaroli et al., 2018), while multiple studies have found that the Portfolio Diet can significantly reduce cholesterol levels and improve several other risk factors for heart disease.
As you can see, nutrition and our diet play an instrumental role in our health and managing risk factors for heart and circulatory diseases. In Part 2 we will take a deeper dive into more specific areas of nutrition and dietary patterns to help you promote your heart health long term.