Healthy Diet

Poor diet is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease in Trinidad and Tobago.

What you eat and drink impacts several heart disease risk factors, including: Blood pressure, Cholesterol, Weight, Diabetes.

A heart healthy lifestyle involves healthy eating, maintaining a healthy body weight, enjoying regular physical activity and not smoking. 

 

A healthy diet can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease and stop you gaining or help you maintain weight, reducing your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. A heart healthy diet should include a wide variety of unprocessed and fresh foods, including plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least five portions every day), whole grains, nuts and foods low in saturated fats, sugars and salt. Be wary of processed foods, which often contain high levels of salt.

Eating for a Healthy Heart

Healthy eating starts with healthy food choices and a well balanced diet.

You should include:

Fruit and vegetables

A well-balanced diet should include at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Try to vary the types of fruit and veggies you eat. They can be fresh, frozen, dried or tinned (choose low sodium options). 

A portion is about a handful (80g or 3oz), for example:

  • 5-8 broccoli florets

  • 1 medium apple

  • 3 heaped tablespoons of carrots

  • Half-inch thick wedge of sliced watermelon

Try thinking of fruit and vegetables as an essential part of meals – no meal is complete without one or the other. Fruit also makes a tasty, portable snack; or sweet treat after a meal.

A simple way to get enough vegetables is to include, at least 2 handfuls of non-starchy vegetables as part of your main meal. They are full of vitamins and minerals, have fewer calories and will help fill you up.   

Here are some tips to help you get some more veg and fruit into your day:

  • add one more vegetable to dinner

  • add a vegetable to your sandwiches e.g. tomato, lettuce, grated carrot

  • add a piece of fruit to breakfast or lunch

 

Whole Grains

Foods that are prepared using the entire grain are called whole grain products. Foods with whole grains have fibre, protein and many nutrients to help you stay healthy and fuller longer. Dietary fiber can help improve blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and even type 2 diabetes.

Some common whole grain foods include:

  • Whole wheat, oats, corn,

  • Oatmeal, rolled or steel cut

  • Brown rice

  • Wild rice

  • Quinoa

 

Get into the habit of reading nutrition labels.  For most whole grain products you’ll see the words “whole” or “whole grain” first on the ingredient list. Refined carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, white flour, sugar, bakery items, low fibre cereals) differ from whole grains. They have been heavily processed and contain fewer nutrients. They do not have heart health benefits.

Protein

Protein is essential for building muscle, but it’s also vital to your brain and heart.  Protein is found in animal products – like fish, poultry, meat and dairy – as well as nuts, legumes and some grains. When choosing protein, variety is important. Try to eat at least two servings of fish each week and include beans, lentils and tofu as a regular component of your diet. Choose lean meats and keep your portion sizes to about 4 oz (the size of the palm of your hand).

You can get protein from many different sources, such as:

  • beans (e.g. dried beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils are high in protein and are economical)

  • nuts and seeds

  • tofu

  • fish and shellfish (anchovies, herring, mackerel, black cod, salmon, sardines, bluefin tuna, whitefish)

  • eggs

  • poultry and lean meat (remember to take the skin off and trim excess fat)

  • lower fat milk and yogurts (unflavoured versions with no added sugar are the healthiest options)

  • lower fat, lower sodium cheeses

  • some grains

Healthy fats and oils 

A small amount of fat is good for you. Fats are more energy-dense than carbohydrates and proteins. The type of fat is just as important for health as the total amount of fat consumed. That's why it's important to choose healthier unsaturated fats. Eating too much and the wrong kinds of fats, such as saturated and trans fats, may raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy HDL cholesterol.

Poly- and mono-unsaturated fats. They are a better choice than foods high in animal fats such as butter, cream and meat fats. 

They're found in:

  • olive oil

  • canola, peanut and soybean oils

  • avocados

  • nuts (almonds, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts).

  • cold-water fish (mackerel, sardines, herring, rainbow trout and salmon)

  • flaxseed

Even if your food’s packaging says it’s lower fat, you might want to check its nutrition label. Sometimes, the fat will be replaced with more sugar or salt to make it taste like the original product. This might not make the lower fat option healthier.

What you should limit or avoid:

Processed foods

Processed foods are manufactured by adding fats, oils, sugars, salt, and other culinary ingredients to minimally processed foods to make them more durable and usually more palatable. These types of foods include simple breads and cheeses; salted and cured meats, and seafood; and preserved fruits, legumes, and vegetables.

 

Ultra-processed food and drink

Most ultra-processed food and drink products contain little or no whole food. They are ready-to-consume or ready-to heat, and thus require little or no culinary preparation.

 

Sugar

Sugars are not harmful in small amounts to the body but, our bodies don’t need added sugars to function properly. Added sugars contribute zero nutrients and adds extra calories to food that we don't need. Because it doesn't fill us up, it's easy to have too much of it, and that can make us put on weight. It also has a small effect on raising cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

 

There are two types of sugars in foods: naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. While the natural sugars already present in foods such as plain milk and fruit aren't a problem, added sugars are the ones you want to limit. Added sugars (or added sweeteners) can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey, as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured, such as high fructose corn syrup.

Salt

Eating too much salt can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure increases the risk of developing heart disease. Most of us eat far too much salt – in fact, one and a half times the recommended maximum intake. Most of the salt in our diets comes from packaged, processed foods. Eating these foods less often can help reduce your salt intake. So try taking a lighter hand to the salt shaker, or better still, ditch the salt altogether. Even more importantly, check food labels for the salt content (salt is listed as sodium on labels), and go for lower sodium options. 

Saturated and trans fats

Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which can increase the risk of developing heart disease. Saturated fats are found in animal-based foods like beef, pork, poultry, full-fat dairy products. They are typically solid at room temperature.

Trans fat, can also raise the amount of cholesterol in the blood. Eating less manufactured trans fats means eating less processed foods. Trans fats are found most commonly in foods containing partially hydrogenated oils and in some bakery and pastry products, flavoured popcorn, potato crisps and fast foods.  

Unsaturated fats, which can be monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats are a healthier choice. The healthy fats are unsaturated fats found in higher amounts in plant foods like: nuts, seeds, plant oils, and avocado, as well as in oily fish. Eating these in place of animal fats contributes to a heart healthy way of eating, that improves cholesterol levels and reduces your risk of heart disease.

Alcohol

Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can have a harmful effect on your heart and general health. Alcohol can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to your heart muscle and other diseases such as stroke, liver problems and some cancers. Alcohol is also high in calories and can lead to weight gain. It also lowers your inhibitions which might mean you find it harder to stick to your healthy eating plans when you have been drinking.

Reduce your long-term health risks by drinking no more than:

  • 2 standard drinks a day for women and no more than 10 standard drinks a week

  • 3 standard drinks a day for men and no more than 15 standard drinks a week

  • And make sure to have at least two alcohol-free days every week.