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Look after your heart

Natural ways to care for your heart and maintain healthy cholesterol levels

October is National Cholesterol Month, an annual campaign led by the charity HEART UK to raise awareness of heart health and maintaining a healthy cholesterol level. According to HEART UK, coronary heart disease remains the number one killer in the UK. Furthermore, over half of all adults in England have raised cholesterol (more than 5mmol/l), while around one in three adults in England and Scotland have high blood pressure.

Faced with these worrying facts, Your Healthy Living talks to the experts to find out how to give your heart a little more love.

Take a whole diet approach

“Research into eating habits that are linked to a lower risk of heart and circulatory diseases, such as the traditional Mediterranean-style diet, support the need to take a whole diet approach,” says Tracy Parker, Senior Dietitian at The British Heart Foundation (BHF). “A few small changes to your diet can make a big difference to your heart health, such as focusing on foods we need to eat more of such as fruits and vegetables and reducing intake of foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat. Eat the colour of the rainbow. A well-balanced diet should include five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Add fruit to your breakfast cereal, keep a piece of fruit in your bag as snack and always have some veg with your evening meal.”

Consider the fats

“When it comes to cholesterol, it’s more important to consider the type of fat you’re eating,” says Tracy Parker. “If you have high cholesterol, swapping the sources of saturated fat in your diet for unsaturated fats can help to lower it. Use olive or rapeseed oil rather than butter. Eat less red and processed meat. Swap half the meat in a recipe for beans or have one meat free day a week. Vegetarian protein like lentils, peas and beans are naturally lower in saturated fat and higher in fibre – all good for your ticker. Opt for chicken and fish. They have less saturated fat than most red meat. Oily fish such as mackerel and salmon contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids.”

Try a targeted supplement

For those who are aware that they need to achieve healthier cholesterol levels, nutritionist and fitness instructor Cassandra Barns explains why it is so important to invest in a red yeast rice supplement. “Red yeast rice is a natural substance created by fermenting red rice with a type of yeast called Monascus purpureus,” she says. “The fermentation process produces a substance called monacolin K, which has been found to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. It may help lower both total and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. Red yeast rice supplements are a popular choice among those who are trying to lower their cholesterol in a more natural way than via medication.”

Snack on some seaweed

Give your heart some loving with seaweed. “This superfood contains protective ‘pro heart’ nutrients that may reduce the risk of heart disease,” explains nutritionist Alix Woods working in collaboration with itsu ( “Seaweed has been found to reduce cholesterol with newer studies showing seaweed contains carbohydrates or fucans and peptides that help reduce blood clotting and lower high blood pressure.”

Eat more berries!

“Whilst all fruit and veg contains an array of polyphenols, berries are unique in that they contain a high content of the polyphenol, anthocyanin, which is thought to have heart protective effects,” says nutritionist Lily Soutter. “Data gathered from the Nurses’ Health Study showed that women who consumed the highest amounts of blueberries and strawberries were 34 per cent less likely to suffer from a heart attack than women who ate the least of these fruits. What’s more, a large review of intervention trials has shown that berry consumption may reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).”

Stock up on fibre

“As a population we currently only consume a shocking average of 15-18g fibre per day, which is just half our recommended 30g per day,” says Lily. “If you’re suffering with high cholesterol then soluble fibre is just too important to go amiss. This special fibre binds to ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and bile acids in the digestive tract. This means that cholesterol is eliminated from the body rather than absorbed into the bloodstream. We all know that wholegrains are rich in fibre, but did you know that berries such as raspberries come with a whopping 7g fibre per 100g! Get your daily fibre dose by adding raspberries to your morning porridge, smoothies, desserts or even enjoy as a tasty snack.”

Cut back on the booze

“Drinking too much alcohol can have a harmful effect on your heart and general health,” says Tracy Parker. “It can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It is important to keep within the recommended guidelines: no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. You should also have several alcohol-free days each week. These guidelines apply whether you’re a man or a woman and if you drink regularly or occasionally. Keeping a tally of how much you drink is an easy way to see if you need to cut back to keep within the recommended limits.”

Opt for more oats

Oats and barley are great heart-healthy foods to add to your diet. According to HEART UK, these grains are rich in a type of fibre called beta glucan – which can help you to lower your cholesterol. When you eat beta glucan, it forms a gel which binds to cholesterol and bile (which is made from cholesterol) in the intestines. This helps limit the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed from the gut into your blood. Your liver has to take more cholesterol out of your blood to make more bile, which also lowers your blood cholesterol. HEART UK recommends aiming for around two to four portions of oat-based products or barley per day. This will give you around 3g or beta glucans which should help to lower your cholesterol.

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