Love your heart

We take a look at some of the best natural ways to protect the health of your heart

Each and every day our hearts pump around 100,000 times, transporting about 23,000 litres of blood around our bodies. This vital process ensures that nutrients and oxygen are delivered to all the cells in the body, whilst carbon dioxide and other waste products are taken away.

According to the British Heart Foundation around 7 million people in the UK are living with cardiovascular disease. This includes all the diseases of the heart and circulation, such as coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease and stroke.

To reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease it is important to follow some heart-healthy habits. We spoke to the experts to get their tips.

Eat a balanced diet

“A healthy diet is so important to prevent the risk of developing heart disease,” explains dietitian Emer Delaney (www.myprivatediet.com).

“This is because it can help reduce raised cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure: two key components of heart health. Meals should be based on wholegrain carbohydrates such as wholegrain wheat, barley, wild rice, oats, quinoa and buckwheat as these will help to lower the risk of heart disease. A variety of vegetables and fruits will provide vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants that will help protect the heart. This is why we should have at least five portions a day. Cooking from fresh and not adding salt to food will help to control raised blood pressure as will keeping active and maintaining a healthy weight.”

Keep active

The charity Heart Research UK states that being active is “one of the most important ways of reducing the risk of heart disease, helping to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check and keep your weight under control”. The NHS recommends that, in order to stay healthy, adults aged between 19 and 64 should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week, as well as strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles. If you need some motivation, Heart UK is encouraging people to make a Healthy Heart Pledge to get fit and raise money by committing to a fundraising challenge. To find out more, visit www.heartresearch.org.uk/events

Take some co-enzyme Q10

“Some foods such as liver, beef and sardines contain the vitamin-like substance co-enzyme Q10,” says Dr David Mantle, medical adviser at Pharma Nord (www.pharmanord.co.uk).

“However, most is produced within the body, with natural levels declining from as young as our mid-twenties. Q10 plays an important role in energy production and is particularly important for tissues with a high energy requirement, such as cardiac muscle. Patients with heart disorders such as heart failure have depleted levels of Q10. Remember that Q10 is fat-soluble, so take an oil-based capsule for best absorption.”

Supplement with selenium

“Selenium is found in foods such as brazil nuts, wheat products and tuna,” says Dr Mantle. “Levels of selenium in the UK diet have been falling since the EU imposed levies on wheat imports from North America, where soil selenium levels are high. It has two important roles in cardiovascular health. Q10 must continually convert between two forms – ubiquinone and ubiquinol – to function within the body and selenium assists in this process. It is also a powerful antioxidant precursor, protecting cardiac cells from damaging free radicals. If choosing a supplement, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has found that selenium from organic sources is more easily absorbed by the body than inorganic forms.”

Eat some tomatoes!

“Tomatoes are packed full of the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which is a plant sterol that really packs a punch,” says Sarah Flower, an author and nutritionist working with Cardiomato, a new optimised tomato-nutrient complex. “Not only can it help to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, it can also help with arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) by supporting the endothelial cells.” (These form the inner lining of the blood vascular system).

Get your fats right

“Understanding the different fats, their sources and the effects they have on heart health is key,” says Emer. “Processed foods and takeaways are high in trans fats, and saturated fats are found in animal products such as fatty meat, cheese, whole milk, butter, lard and ghee. Replacing these with heart-healthy oils and spreads made from olive, rapeseed, sunflower and corn oils is ideal to reduce cholesterol. Swapping fatty meats for oily fish, beans and lentils is a top tip for a healthy heart. Oily fish is rich in omega-3, the polyunsaturated fat that is beneficial for the heart. Aim to include salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout or fresh tuna once a week instead of fatty cuts of meat. Beans and pulses are excellent sources of soluble fibre which we know can reduce high cholesterol levels as part of a healthy diet. So include these in your main meals a few times a week. We know that a diet high in salt directly affects blood pressure so why not experiment with different herbs and spices? These will add great flavour to dishes and be kinder to your heart.”

Stock up on oats

A new research review, which analysed more than 20 different studies, has revealed the benefits to heart health of eating oats. Oats significantly lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol thanks to the rich content of a special soluble fibre, called beta glucan. The cholesterol-lowering ability of diets containing oats has been compared favourably with statins. In one clinical study, a portfolio diet rich in oats lowered LDL cholesterol by 30 per cent after four weeks while statins lowered it by 33 per cent. The review, which was led by registered dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton, and commissioned by the Breakfast Cereal Information Service, was published in Network Health Dietitian.

Good news for wine drinkers!

“The French paradox is the observation of low coronary heart disease death rates within the French population despite a high intake of saturated fat,” says Aimee Benbow, technical services manager with Viridian Nutrition (www.viridian-nutrition.com).

“One of the proposed reasons for this is the high consumption of red wine. Red wine has been linked with lower incidences of heart disease and the polyphenol resveratrol has been identified as the primary active constituent. It is proposed that resveratrol can reduce contraction of the blood vessels which leads to high blood pressure (hypertension). A rise in blood pressure will eventually lead to damage within the vessels and heart. Resveratrol supplements on the market often provide resvertrol extracted from polygonum cuspidatum – Japanese knotweed. Look out for premium supplements which provide resveratrol from red grape skin.”

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