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Nutrition and Heart Health

By: Camryn Murray, Winthrop University Nutrition Student


If you or someone you love has ever had issues with their heart, you probably know that one of the first things a doctor or dietitian will recommend is to change your diet. Chronic diseases are a massive problem in today's society, especially heart disease, as it is the number one killer in the United States. Heart problems can be scary and confusing for people who experience them, so it is important to understand how the heart works, how the disease develops, and how nutrition can affect it or prevent it.




Basics of Heart Disease

The cardiovascular system, which contains the heart, is crucial for circulating blood throughout our entire body. Blood has several functions, including transporting oxygen, nutrients, and hormones, and removing waste like carbon dioxide, which can be fatal to the body if it is allowed to build up. The blood is moved to the heart via veins and away from the heart via arteries, but a general term for each of these things is “blood vessels.” Heart disease is an umbrella term for things that mess with the heart's function, like coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure.



Risk Factors For Heart Disease

If a heart disease is left untreated or poorly controlled, it can lead to a heart attack (blood vessel blockage), stroke (blood clot in the brain), chest pain, and more.

● High blood pressure: it might be helpful to think of this as similar to the water pressure in our shower; pressure is how much force is exerted on our blood vessels depending on how narrow the blood vessels are and how hard the heart is pumping

● High cholesterol: LDL cholesterol can accumulate in the circulatory system, causing a blockage or narrow passage of plaque to build up in the blood vessels

● Diabetes mellitus: uncontrolled high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels over time

● Smoking: promotes plaque buildup in blood vessels

● Obesity: more body mass means that higher blood pressure is needed to get blood around the body and can put a strain on the heart

● Unhealthy diet: excess sodium (salt), saturated fats, LDL cholesterol, and trans fat contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease

● Inactivity: physical activity strengthens your heart muscle and promotes circulation, so without it, our hearts can grow weak


Nutrition for Heart Disease

There are several diets that can help treat high blood pressure, like the DASH diet, and prevent heart disease, like the Mediterranean Diet, but let's focus on some essential components of a diet that is good for the heart:

● Less salt, more potassium

● More fruits and vegetables

● Limit saturated fats found in red meats, full-fat dairy, and tropical oils (palm oil, coconut oil, etc.)

● Focus on leaner proteins like chicken, fish, legumes, and low-sodium nuts

● Focus on unsaturated fats, like in olive oil and avocados

● Try replacing refined grains (like white bread) with whole grains

● Cut down on sweets like desserts and sodas



Other Ways to Help Your Heart

Nutrition is a huge part of building a healthy cardiovascular system, but it is not the only aspect of it. Avoid smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, maintain a healthy weight, exercise around 30 minutes per day, eat a balanced diet, and build a better sleep schedule for optimum heart health. We want our body to function as best as it can, not only for longevity, but so that we can enjoy life without enduring the symptoms and effects that can occur when the body experiences something like heart disease.




References

  1. Dash eating plan. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/education/dash-eating-plan. Published December 29, 2021. Accessed November 4, 2022.

  2. Preventing heart disease. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/disease-prevention/cardiovascular-disease/preventing-cvd/#:~:text=The%20best%20diet%20for%20preventing,sodium%2C%20and%20foods%20with%20trans. Published August 29, 2022. Accessed November 4, 2022.

  3. Graber E. ASN journals explore the links between nutrition and heart disease. American Society for Nutrition. https://nutrition.org/asn-journals-explore-the-links-between-nutrition-and-heart-disease/. Published February 24, 2022. Accessed November 4, 2022.

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