Heart disease

Heart disease is one of the UK’s biggest killers. More people are living with heart disease than ever before and numbers are rising.

Heart disease happens when there is a build-up of fatty deposits called plaques in the arteries. They clog up the arteries making them narrower and restricting the blood flow in the same way that sewerage pipes get blocked when people pour animal fat down the plughole!

Reduced blood flow to the heart can lead to chest pain and discomfort (angina). A blood clot in the coronary artery may cut off the blood supply to the heart, which can then result in a heart attack and sudden death. 

Risk factors that increase your chances of getting heart disease include high blood pressure (hypertension), smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, physical inactivity, stress, being overweight or obese and a family history of heart disease. Simple changes to diet and lifestyle can have a substantial effect on lowering your risk. This means dropping meat and dairy from the diet.

Too much salt can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. Avoid cooking with salt and using table salt and read labels to see how much salt (or sodium) is in the food you buy.

Bad fats, mainly from red meat, white meat and dairy products such as hard cheese and butter, is strongly linked an increased risk of heart disease. Most saturated fat in the average UK diet comes from: fatty cuts of meat, poultry skin, sausages and pies, whole milk and full fat dairy products, coconut oil and palm oil, pastry, cakes and biscuits, sweets and chocolate. The government recommends eating less of these foods and more foods containing unsaturated fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, plant-based oils and spreads. 

Somehow, chicken continues to slip under the net. It is not a healthy option; modern supermarket chickens (including organic ones) have been bred for rapid growth and now contain more fat than protein!

Sugary drinks, cakes, chocolate and biscuits all help pile on the pounds and being overweight or obese increases the risk of heart disease too. Switch to water and healthier snacks such as fruit, dried fruit, small handfuls of nuts (rich in healthier fats) and dark chocolate – a small piece goes a long way!

Haem iron (type of iron compound) from meat can damage artery walls increasing the risk of heart disease. Plant foods contain non-haem iron which is much safer.

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease as it hardens the arteries, causing them to narrow. Alcohol can increase the risk too so it should be limited.

Exercise can help control weight and lower cholesterol.

Fruit and vegetables protect your arteries and the antioxidants in them can even dissolve plaques.

Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, pulses (peas, beans and lentils), wholegrain foods such as brown rice, wholemeal bread and wholemeal pasta, nuts and seeds. Find out what you need to eat each day here.

 

Read more about how diet can help protect against heart disease and see our Nutrition News on the topic.