While genetics and an array of lifestyle factors have a large role to play in the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD), one of the most significant contributors to the prevention and management of CVD is our diet.1 What we eat may help to reduce our risk of developing CVD and may also play a crucial role in managing the condition after diagnosis.2
It is no secret that diet plays an important role in maintaining good overall health, and the cardiovascular system is no exception – the foods we consume daily can influence our heart health. For example, foods that are high in saturated fats and trans fats, such as butter, cheese, and fatty cuts of meat, can increase levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’, which can lead to atherosclerosis – a build-up of plaque in the arteries which is the dominant cause of CVD.3, 4
While some dietary choices may increase the risk of CVD, more healthy selections may help to offer a protective shield against CVD. Individuals who adhere to more healthy eating patterns, consisting of a higher intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts, and lower intakes of red and processed meats, have a 14–21% lower risk of developing CVD when compared to those who did not adhere to healthy eating patterns.1
Prevention through nutrient-rich choices
With diet being an important way to prevent and manage CVD, the journey to a healthy heart can begin with the foods that we choose to consume.5 Incorporating nutrient-dense foods can go a long way in helping to prevent CVD. Some examples of heart-healthy nutrients and foods to reduce your risk of developing CVD are:
- Omega-3 fatty acids – often found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that have been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This is important as inflammation in the body can damage blood vessels, a factor which can contribute to the development of heart disease and strokes.6
- Fiber – found in whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, fiber can help to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol levels which are both key risk factors for the development of CVD.7
- Antioxidants – foods such as berries, leafy greens, and nuts are full of antioxidants which can help to reduce levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which are factors associated with the development of CVD.8
Managing CVD through diet
If you are living with CVD, dietary choices may have a positive impact on your disease progression and your overall quality of life.9 Choosing to follow a heart-healthy diet may help you to manage your key risk factors for CVD such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.10 Some ways to manage the impact of CVD post-diagnosis could include:
- Reducing sodium intake – excessive consumption of sodium can lead to an increase in blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.11 A reduction in sodium intake can help to reduce blood pressure within a matter of weeks.10 Replacing processed foods with fresh, heart-healthy foods is a great way to reduce your sodium intake.
- Limiting intake of saturated fats – as previously mentioned, foods high in saturated fats can increase levels of LDL-C, increasing the risk of the development of atherosclerosis.2 Choosing to consume lean, rather than fatty meats, low-fat dairy products, and using healthier cooking oils such as olive oil are all ways to help keep your intake of saturated fats in check.12
- Monitoring portion sizes – overeating is known to contribute to obesity, a condition associated with an increased risk of developing CVD.13 Being more mindful of portion sizes is a simple way to help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the strain on your cardiovascular system post CVD diagnosis.
Whether you are trying to prevent CVD or are managing your life with CVD, it is important to remember that making heart-healthy dietary choices is just one piece of the puzzle. Implementing a more heart-healthy diet can also be supported by taking part in regular physical activity, reducing your consumption of alcohol, and avoiding tobacco use, to take every possible step to ensuring you have a healthier heart.
At Daiichi Sankyo Europe we understand the value of preventing, and managing CVD following a diagnosis, and the role that we play in our mission to improve patient outcomes. We are exploring how a more holistic approach to CVD care can and should be implemented across Europe. We recently published a report exploring the potential of a more holistic approach to CVD care, which you can read, here.