Lemon Salmon dish
UHN registered dietitians recommend adding a variety of whole foods to improve cardiovascular health. (Photo: The Food Network)

As heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada, it is important to know what we can do to modify some cardiovascular risk factors.

Eating a "heart healthy" diet, in combination with quitting smoking, exercising regularly, monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and getting enough sleep, can all reduce cardiovascular risk, according to Ada DuPerrouzel, a registered dietitian at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.

What is a "heart healthy" diet?

When looking at the evidence, there are several dietary patterns which have consistently demonstrated a protective effect on cardiovascular risk factors, including; the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH Diet, the Portfolio diet, and vegetarian and vegan diets. These dietary patterns share a few key attributes:

  • Lots of fruits and vegetables (think color and variety!)
  • Including a variety of whole, high-fibre grains (oats, barley, farro, buckwheat, quinoa, wheat berries and wild rice to name a few)
  • Regular consumption of legumes
  • Regular consumption of nuts and seeds
  • Using liquid vegetable oils such as extra virgin olive oil
  • Moderate amounts of animal products such as fish, chicken, lean meats, eggs and dairy
  • Limiting added sugars, processed & packaged foods, sodium, and refined grains

Essentially, the evidence suggests that an emphasis on whole, plant-based foods is associated with cardiovascular benefits.

According to Ada, the goal is to develop dietary patterns, not a particular meal plan – and sustainability is key. Most of us respond best to adding things into our pre-existing patterns of eating rather than taking away some of our favorite foods.

"A great start would be to work on adding one or two key attributes into your current pattern of eating, and continue to refine your goals from there," says Ada.

Try out some of these "heart healthy" recipe suggestions at home:

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