The Keys to Your Heart Health

February 10, 2014

By Anna Varriano

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February is heart month, so in this month’s Tip I’ll be sharing some facts about cardiovascular disease as well as some widely circulated nutritional recommendations for heart health that in my opinion, are pretty ineffective, and may actually be contributing to cardiovascular disease (not to mention other health issues). I’ll also be sharing 5 nutritional tips you can use to support your heart health, including reserving yourself one of the limited spots for a presentation I’ll be giving on Thursday, February 27th at 7:00pm entitled: A Change of Heart – Nutrition and Lifestyle Tips for the Prevention and Care of Cardiovascular Disease. If you or someone you know is struggling with heart health-related issues, including high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure, or wants to maintain heart health, this presentation could be a life-changer.

The Stats

Rising profitsDespite all of the medical advances made in the area of cardiovascular health, heart disease and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, a Canadian dies from heart disease or stroke every 7 minutes. While early intervention including CPR and portable defibrillators have decreased the rate of death from heart attacks over the past several decades, the number of people with some form of cardiovascular disease is still growing. Why is this happening?

Sadly, 90% of Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke. These include: smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and stress. If I asked you how many of the above risk factors we have some level of control over, what would your answer be? My answer is all of them – and the amount of control we have over them is greater than we might think, especially when it comes to what we’re eating.

Time for a Change of Heart?

Oops! Road SignI recently did a bit of Googling and wrote down the 10 most common nutritional recommendations I came across related to heart health. In my opinion, 7 out of 10 of these recommendations won’t help much – in fact, they may actually increase your risk of heart disease, including these three common ones:

1. Avoid saturated fats and cholesterol
2. Replace items listed in #1 with liquid vegetable oils and margarines
3. Choose low and no fat/cholesterol versions of everything

Despite the fact that this type of nutritional advice has been around for decades, the impact that it has had on reducing the prevalence of cardiovascular disease has been virtually zero. In fact, the conclusion of a recent meta-analysis of research on this topic was published in the British Medical Journal – one of the world’s most prestigious peer-reviewed journals – stated the following:

“Advice to substitute polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats is a key component of worldwide dietary guidelines for coronary heart disease risk reduction. However, clinical benefits of the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid, omega 6 linoleic acid, have not been established. In this cohort, substituting dietary linoleic acid in place of saturated fats increased the rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. An updated meta-analysis of linoleic acid intervention trials showed no evidence of cardiovascular benefit. These findings could have important implications for worldwide dietary advice to substitute omega 6 linoleic acid, or polyunsaturated fats in general, for saturated fats”.


What does that mean in plain English please? Basically that avoiding saturated fats like butter, coconut oil, and animal fats and replacing them with things like margarine, and sunflower and canola oils, increased the rates of death from all causes (including coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease)…oh, and that maybe this advice (that’s been given around the world for decades) might have to be revisited and likely reversed. Oops. Sorry.

Cholesterol – Friend or Foe?

friend or foeIn my opinion, these findings give undeniable support to an emerging theory that is causing quite a bit of controversy within the medical community right now. That theory is that saturated fat and cholesterol are not the cause of cardiovascular disease. In fact, this emerging theory indicates that:

  1. Neither cholesterol or saturated fat causes heart disease
  2. Saturated fat and cholesterol are essential to good health
  3. There is no correlation between heart attacks and cholesterol levels
  4. Low cholesterol levels have been linked to numerous health issues

Hopefully, this emerging theory will soon get more attention than the $30 billion dollar cholesterol-lowering drug industry. Yup. $30 billion dollars…and that’s despite mounting reviews of clinical trials that show no reduction in deaths due to cardiovascular disease despite their effectiveness in lowering cholesterol.

The Way to A Man’s (or Woman’s) Heart Health

veggie heartWe can wait for the emerging theories to break the myths surrounding heart health, or we can start taking some practical steps right now. Let’s start with these 5 nutritional tips that have been shown to support heart health:

 

  1. Eat more veggies. Select a variety of colours and strive to make your lunch and dinner plate at least 50% veggies. Beets, dark leafy greens, asparagus, carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, red bell peppers (eat the white pithy parts on the inside too!), garlic, and onions are often associated with heart health.
  2. If you eat chocolate, switch to dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa mass. Dark chocolate contains reservatrol and cocoa phenols that have been shown to promote heart health.
  3. Snack on raw nuts. Many nuts, including almonds, walnuts, and pecans are a good source of fibre, magnesium, and healthy fats. Studies show that eating raw nuts reduces the rate of heart disease.
  4. Replace a few of those cups of coffee with green tea. The catechins in green tea have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease.
  5. Reserve a spot for my A Change of Heart presentation, Thursday  February 27th, 7:00pm,  to learn more about what you can do to boost heart health….and find out who the real ‘trouble makers’ are! Click here for more details. I look forward to seeing you there!

Take control of what you can.

Yours in health,
Anna

References

  1. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
  2. http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.e8707
  3. The Great Cholesterol Myth (book)
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