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Eating for a healthy heart

Giving up smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and being active are all ways that you can help look after your heart.

According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), everyone should aim to eat a well-balanced diet. It warns against “faddy crash diets that may not provide the balance of nutrients you need”.

How to eat for a healthy heart

We explore how easily can you adapt your eating habits to ensure you’re helping your heart.

Food groups for heart health

It is a good idea to think of food in categories. When trying to eat for a healthy heart, it’s advisable to eat:

  • Plenty of fruit and vegetables – at least five portions a day of fresh, frozen, dried or tinned fruit and veg, and go for variety to ensure you get a range of nutrients. Fresh, unsweetened juice or pulses also count as one portion

  • Lots of starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta; wholegrain varieties are healthier

  • Some milk and dairy products (and non-dairy alternatives). Try to choose options that are lower in sugar

  • Some meat, fish, eggs and other sources of protein such as tofu, lentils or beans. Eat less red or processed meats, like beef, sausages or smoked meats

  • Only a very small amount of foods and drinks that are high in fats and/or sugar

The lowdown on fats

For a healthy heart, getting your fat facts right is vital. Aim to:

  • Cut down on saturated fats – butter, margarine, fatty meats and poultry skin, full-fat milk, cheese, lard and so on – and foods that contain them, such as cakes, pies and processed foods such as sausages. There are excellent suggestions on the NHS Livewell pages

  • Cut down on foods containing trans fats. These can increase cholesterol in your blood and are often found in foods with hydrogenated oils or fats in them - such as takeaways, snacks and fried foods and pastries

  • Eat small amounts of mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Olive oil, avocados, rapeseed oil, almonds and unsalted cashews are good sources of these fats. However, remember all fats and oils are high in calories, so even the unsaturated fats should only be eaten in small amounts

Shake up your salt intake

Modern convenience foods are all too often high in salt. Eating too much salt can increase our risk of developing high blood pressure, which can lead to coronary heart disease or strokes. For most people, it’s important to keep an eye on salt levels, as 75% of the salt we eat comes from everyday foods such as cereals and bread. Avoid adding salt to dishes and look for low-salt recipes.

And don’t forget alcohol

If you enjoy alcohol, it’s important to stay within the government's recommended guidelines, as too much can lead to a host of issues, including increased risk of heart disease.


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