Spoiler alert! … there might not be any one specific best diet for heart health.
Yes, there are a few eating patterns know to help. But as with any other diet or eating pattern, it’s not only about what foods are included or excluded. The best diet for heart health isn’t going to help your heart if you aren’t able to make it work in your life.
Let me explain a little more … but first, a little background on heart health in general before I share a different perspective on eating for heart health.
Heart health stats
No one likes to see the facts in black and white. They scare us, they make us feel guilty, maybe we’ve heard them so many times already and don’t find them shocking anymore. Maybe we feel helpless to change. Or are happy enough to tell ourselves that this will be a project for next year, not now.
Let’s take a moment to let this sink in.
8 in 10 cases of premature heart disease and stroke are PREVENTABLE through healthy lifestyle behaviours
Let’s look at that again.
80% of cases are preventable by taking steps that not only help your heart but help you life a fuller life in your day-to-day
These are some shocking numbers from the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Scary stats don’t inspire change
Numbers and statistics don’t inspire us to change. It’s the first-hand (and possibly second-hand) experiences that are the greatest teachers.
It takes me back to what I find myself saying over and again. Most people know this. I don’t need to tell you to take care of your heart.
Even if you didn’t know the exact numbers, you know people who’ve had problems – heart attacks, strokes, etc. Maybe you’ve even had one yourself. Maybe you’ve noticed people who use their scare as a kick in the butt. Sometimes it’s enough to change, sometimes life happens again and autopilot takes back over.
Unfortunately it goes that way for many health-related things. Preventing health issues does not get the focus that restoring health gets. But more on this another day.
40% of heart health tips involve food and eating
There are some really easy ways to help you live well in your day-to-day. And the bonus is that they also help to protect and preserve the health you have now. Not only for heart health, but across many parts of your overall well-being.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation gives these 5 main tips for living a healthy lifestyle:
- Eat Well
- Get Moving
- Maintain a Healthy Weight
- Stop Smoking
- Manage Stress
Which is the best diet for heart health?
So if eating makes up 40% of heart health lifestyle tips, what is the best diet for heart health?
There are a few different eating patterns that can help guide you. Most notably, the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diets.
But the most important thing is not necessarily the actual diet you’re following … it’s the do-ability.
Consistency is key when it comes to any change you’re planning to make.
The biggest struggle I hear from clients after getting their plan actually set up is about sticking to it. What starts out as motivation can turn into hassle, frustration, anger about having to do things differently than how you’ve always just done them. These are pivotal points for getting help from the people around you.
Find your support system. Set your goals. Keep them front and centre. Learn from your setbacks and move on.
Do it every day. Do it again. And. Again.
5 tips for making a heart friendly diet work for you
- Consistency – as I mentioned above, any change you make is going to be a helpful change if it is consistent. This includes not only weekdays, but weekends, holidays, special occasions … you get the idea.
- Trust your own knowledge of what to eat – most often the people I work with absolutely know what and what not to eat. It’s when they get lost in all the nutrition messages out there that they feel like they don’t know anymore.
- Believe that all foods CAN fit into a heart healthy diet – You may need to work on portions, frequency and possibly some substitutions or hacks. But all foods can fit. Without guilt or judgement.
- Adapt the eating pattern to fit your life – Changing your eating to take care of your heart shouldn’t feel like a punishment. There can be ways to enjoy the food you eat and still do good things for your body. Working with a health professional who understands the many roles that food plays in our lives is a good start. This ties in with consistency. As I mentioned in the beginning, you can really want to follow the best diet for heart health … but it’s only going to make a difference in your cholesterol levels or blood pressure if it’s something you can actually do.
- Get organized – As I said most people know what to eat. But if you’re not organized about your plan, it’s so easy to let those less healthful choices slip in. And here is again where we tie back to consistency! If you need some help with this, here’s a FREE Meal-planning Starter Kit you can download and use to get organized!
Other heart health factors to consider
Nutrition plays a key role of course. But aside from eating well, other factors are important to consider, as we saw from the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s tips for healthy living above.
One of these factors is Managing Stress.
While it may seem like a problem all on it’s own, there can certainly be an impact on nutrition as well. Not only can negative and unmanaged stress damage your body and lead to high blood pressure, but it can also just make life harder in general. And when you’re not able to cope with life, eating patterns are often affected. Meal planning or even caring about eating well might take a backseat when you’re mind and body are preoccupied with stress.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation has a tip sheet for helping you manage stress that covers a variety of simple but effective coping exercises.
Change can feel hard
Especially when it comes to heart health! Because taking care of our hearts is something we can’t see or feel until it’s a problem, it’s easy to take heart health for granted.
Change is hard.
Change is even harder when we’re trying to motivate ourself because we “should”, for the future.
And change just downright sucks when it’s forced on you. As is the case for someone who’s had a stroke or heart attack.
But I hope that you’ve found a different perspective on making change with this article. Know that you’re not alone with this.
Life is busy and can feel complicated at times. Making changes can feel hard when we’re not clear about what the path looks like. If you’d like some help with making a change in your eating, I’d love to chat more with you.
Through my programs, I provide a step-by-step approach to lead you from discouragement and uncertainty to feeling confident and ready to take control of your eating.
If you’re ready to preserve and protect your health before a health problem forces you to make changes, you might be interested in Nourish your Weight. This is my program aimed at walking with you through the most effective changes you can make for your heart health and weight.
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Last updated: January 30, 2020
Angela Hubbard is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) with 10 years experience working in the field of nutrition. Her work focuses on helping people take back control of their health & weight … before it feels like their health controls their life. In her off time she loves swapping recipes, creating and exploring Northern BC life with her young family.