Your diet — the foods and drinks you eat, not short-term restrictive programs — can affect your risk of heart disease. Evidence-based nutritional approaches are used by nutritionists and physicians to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease.
National Nutrition Month, with its 2023 theme of Unlocking the Potential of Food, is an ideal opportunity to learn more about these approaches and adopt more heart-friendly behaviors.
The Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS) Clinical Practice Guidelines recommend three main dietary patterns to reduce the risk of heart disease: the Mediterranean Diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Portfolio Diet.
The Mediterranean Diet is rich in colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, olive oil and seafood. Research studies have shown that this diet reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke, even if you already have heart disease, and offers several other health benefits. Dietitians of Canada have created a resource that summarizes the details of this nutritional approach.
The DASH Diet focuses on eating lots of vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and nuts while limiting red and processed meat, foods with added sugars, and sodium. Originally developed to treat high blood pressure, this diet can also lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C — the unhealthy type of cholesterol) and offers several other health benefits. Heart & Stroke offers several resources on this approach to nutrition.
The portfolio diet was originally developed in Canada to treat high cholesterol. It emphasizes plant-based proteins (e.g. soy and other legumes); Nuts; viscous (or “sticky”) fiber sources such as oats, barley, and psyllium; plant sterols; and healthy oils like olive oil, canola oil, and avocado. Many research studies have shown that this diet can lower LDL-C and offer several other health benefits. Research shows that even small additions to Portfolio Diet’s heart-healthy foods can make a difference; The more of these recommended foods you consume, the greater your LDL-C and heart disease risk reduction. The Canadian Cardiovascular Society has released an infographic on following the portfolio diet.
A common theme across these three diets is that they are all considered plant-based, and small changes can affect overall heart disease risk. “Plant-based” doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be 100 percent vegan or vegetarian to reap its benefits. Plant-based diets can range from completely vegan to diets that contain small to moderate amounts of animal products.
Knowledge of healthy eating approaches is key, but behaviors unleash the power of food. Below are three strategies to harness the potential of foods to promote heart health. They show that by combining the power of nutrition and psychology, you can improve your chances of long-term change.
You don’t have to do this alone. We recommend requesting a referral from your doctor (this will help cover the appointment from your insurance company) to work with a Registered Dietitian and/or Psychologist (behaviourist) to work together to find your own ways to unlock the potential of food to release.
3 ways to unleash the power of food
1. Master and conquer the 90 percent goal
Pick a goal that you’re 90 percent confident you can achieve, while also creating a plan to achieve bigger and more challenging goals in the future. This approach will help you build confidence in your abilities and give you valuable information about what works for you and what doesn’t.
Research shows that if we start with 90 percent goals, we are more likely to achieve future goals. A 90 percent goal might be to swap out animal protein for plant-based protein — like tofu or beans — at Meatless Mondays. Another example: Use a meal delivery service that delivers pre-measured ingredients with plant-based recipes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to give you new ideas for incorporating more plants into your meals.
2. Why eliminate and limit when you can replace?
Choose a Do Instead goal or work with a Registered Dietitian to replace your current foods and beverages with healthier alternatives. Avoid setting goals that might make you focus MORE on the foods you’re trying to avoid (e.g., “Stop eating sugar”).
Instead, the substitution approach can include things like choosing a low-sodium soup or buying pre-cut vegetables with the goal of halving the starch content at meals. Canada’s Food Guide, Diabetes Canada and Heart & Stroke recommend that half your plate should be made up of vegetables.
3. Set value-based goals
Connect your goal to something that is very important to you. While long-term consequences (like heart disease) can be the impetus for change, research shows that things that matter to us right now motivate us the most. Choosing personal and meaningful reasons for change helps with sustainable change.
For example, decide to cook a meal that includes vegetables with a close friend or family member so you can share the experience and spend time together. This example can be rooted in the following values: kindness, relationship values, cultural values, empathy, courage.
Unleash the power of food
Research shows that a key to changing your diet is to focus on changing eating habits and behaviors one at a time. The support of a nutritionist, such as B. a licensed nutritionist and/or a psychologist, can help you make informed decisions and plans that are tailored to your individual needs, situation, preferences, traditions, skills and capacity.