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5 diet swaps that will protect your heart

There are 5 diet changes we can all make to protect ourselves from heart disease and stroke, whatever our age, according to a new report released by the British Nutrition Foundation.

Heart disease is responsible for 1 in 4 premature deaths in the UK and most cases are preventable.

The report identifies a healthy gut microbiome and watching your waist size, as well as keeping as your blood pressure and cholesterol levels down, as key factors that may stave off heart disease. But what are the 5 diet swaps that will help you achieve them?

1. Feast on fibre-rich foods

Eating plenty of wholegrains and other fibre-rich foods is vital for developing healthy gut bacteria, which may help reduce your cholesterol levels. High-fibre foods include vegetables (keep the skin on potatoes and other root veg), beans, pulses and fruit. Also choose wholegrain versions of starchy carbohydrates, such as wholegrain bread and breakfast cereals, wholewheat pasta and brown rice.

Watch nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed's advice on eating healthy carbohydrates.

2. Cut down on foods high in saturated fat

Too much saturated fat in your diet encourages your body to produce cholesterol, which increases your risk of heart disease. Saturated fat is found in cheese, yoghurt, fatty cuts of meat, butter, lard, cakes, biscuits and coconut oil.

To keep your intake within safe limits, replace some foods containing saturated fats with foods containing a higher proportion of unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. These foods include oily fish, nuts and seeds. Complex carbohydrates such as those fibre-rich wholegrains and pulses are a good alternative way to keep you feeling fuller for longer. These two swaps may keep your blood cholesterol levels down and benefit other heart disease risk factors.

What to choose

  1. Choose olive, rapeseed, sunflower, corn and walnut oils and spreads made with these.
  2. Choose reduced or lower-fat dairy options, such as skimmed and semi-skimmed milk, lower-fat cheeses and lower-fat yoghurt. Do make sure products don’t contain added sugar. If you choose a more mature cheese you will need less of it for flavour.
  3. Choose lean meats such as turkey, chicken and lean cuts of pork. Trim visible fat off meat and remove skin from chicken.
  4. Eat at least 1 portion of oily fish per week. This includes fresh or tinned salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines.
  5. Snack on nuts and seeds instead of crisps and biscuits.

3. Say goodbye to salt

Too much salt is linked to high blood pressure, which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. The NHS recommends adults should eat no more than 6g (around 1 teaspoon) of salt per day.

  1. Use alternative methods to season food, such as herbs and spices. Salt is an acquired taste and the less you eat it the less you will want it. It takes around 4 weeks for your tastebuds to change so that you don't miss salt.
  2. Choose reduced-salt products, such as baked beans and tomato ketchup. Always check food labels for salt content, as three-quarters of the salt we eat is already in our food. Ready-meals and shop-bought sandwiches and sauces are often high in salt, so check the label before you buy.
  3. Make your own sauces for pasta, curry and spaghetti Bolognese rather than buying salt-heavy sauces in a jar, so you can control the seasoning.

4. Pack in the vitamins and minerals

We need a range of vitamins and minerals in our diet to help us stay healthy – and they may contribute towards reducing the risk of heart disease too. Minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium may play a role in preventing high blood pressure and have positive effects on other risk factors for heart disease. Many experts believe most of us can get all the vitamins and minerals we need from a healthy, balanced diet, with the exception of Vitamin D. We should not rely on supplements to provide these. But if you're concerned about your levels of vitamins and minerals, here's what you should eat.

What to eat:

  1. At least 5 portion of fruits and/or vegetables per day. A single small glass of juice (150ml) with a meal is also classed as 1 of your 5-a-day, but if you drink more it will still only count as 1 portion. Beans and pulses also count as 1 portion.
  2. Nuts and seeds for vitamin E – this includes nut and seed butters.
  3. Fish, dairy and wholegrains for B vitamins.
  4. Bananas, potatoes and fish for potassium.
  5. Lentils and wholegrains for magnesium.
  6. Dairy foods and green leafy vegetables for calcium.

5. Reduce your calorie intake if you are overweight

The likelihood is that if you are completing steps 1-4 you are well on your way to step 5. If you eat a varied balanced diet that is low in saturated fat, salt and sugar and high in unsaturated fat, fibre and vitamins you are less likely to be overweight and will have a healthier heart and lifestyle. Being overweight increases your risk of heart disease, particularly if you carry fat around your waist. Regardless of your height or weight, you should try to lose weight if your waist is 94cm (37in) or more for most men or 80cm (31.5in) or more for women.

  1. Use the calorie counter below to find out how many calories you need to maintain your weight or lose weight.
  2. Find out what is considered to be a healthy portion size.
  3. Get healthy or low calorie recipes for you.

More keys to a healthy heart

Additional key recommendations in the British Nutrition Foundation report on how to stave off heart disease are:

  1. Get 7-9 hours sleep per night.
  2. Drink fewer than 14 units of alcohol per week. If you do drink as many as 14 units, don't save them up; instead spread them out evenly over 3 or more days.
  3. Exercise for at least 2.5 hours per week.
  4. Manage your stress levels.
  5. Do not smoke.

You might not know that what you eat in pregnancy may influence your baby’s growth and development. A poor diet can increase your baby’s risk of obesity and heart disease later life. Eat a healthy diet and keep active where possible.