Following a healthy diet can help reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease and stop you gaining weight, reducing your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.
It can also help lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of some cancers.
Even if you already have a heart condition, a healthy diet can benefit your heart. Here is advice on how to maintain heart health as part of an active lifestyle.
A balanced diet
Everyone should aim for a well-balanced diet. Faddy crash diets may not provide the balance of nutrients you need.
The best way to understand it is to think of foods in food groups.
Try to eat:
- plenty of fruit and vegetables
- plenty of starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta. Choose wholegrain varieties wherever possible
- some milk and dairy products
- some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
- only a small amount of food and drinks high in fats and/or sugar
Fruit and vegetables
They can be fresh, frozen, dried or tinned. Pure unsweetened fruit juice, pulses and beans count as a portion, but they only make up a maximum of one of your five a day, however much you eat in one day.
A portion is about a handful (80g or 3oz), for example:
- four broccoli florets
- one pear
- three heaped tablespoons of carrots
- seven or eight strawberries
To help look after your heart health it is important to make sure you choose the right type of fats.
So to help keep your heart healthy:
- Replace saturated fats with small amounts of mono and polyunsaturated fats
- Cut down on foods containing trans fats
- It's also important to remember that all fats and oils are high in calories, so even the unsaturated fats should only be used in small amounts
Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood, which can increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Unsaturated fats, which can be monounsaturated fats (for example olive oil, rapeseed oil, almonds, unsalted cashews and avocado) or polyunsaturated fats (including sunflower oil and vegetable oil, walnuts, sunflower seeds and oily fish) are a healthier choice.
Another type of fat, known as trans fat, can also raise the amount of cholesterol in the blood.
Saturated fat guidelines
At the moment UK guidelines encourage us to swap saturated fats for unsaturated fats. You might have seen reports about a study we helped to fund which suggests there’s not enough evidence to back the current UK guidelines on the types of fat we eat. We think more research is needed before suggesting any major changes to healthy eating guidance.
If you drink alcohol, it's important to keep within the recommended guidelines - whether you drink every day, once or twice a week or just occasionally.
The British Heart Foundation is a UK charity focused on promoting and improving heart health The BHF is the largest independent funder of cardiovascular research in the UK and offers a range of advice on how to maintain a healthy heart. For more information, visit www.bhf.org.uk.