The dos and don’ts of a healthy heart
As you know, I’m no stranger to talking about the best diets for your gut. This issue, however, I wanted to discuss the best diet for your heart.
If you or your family have high cholesterol levels, elevated blood pressure or systemic inflammation, eating a heart-healthy diet is essential for your wellbeing.
So, what do I recommend? An anti-inflammatory diet filled with an abundance of plant foods is the best way you can eat for a healthy heart. But it’s not always that simple. If I were to give you a list of dos and don’ts for a healthy heart it would look something like this …
An overall approach is “fresh is always best”. Eating a wholefoods diet filled with predominantly fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes will be a good long-term plan.
Anti-inflammatory foods are your new best friend. Including foods such as oily fish, salmon, sardines or mackerel, and chia seeds, nuts and hemp seeds.
Dietary fibre isn’t just great for your gut — your heart’s a big fan of it, too! Try to add more beans, oats and linseeds to help lower total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Studies also indicate that high-fibre foods have other heart health benefits, like reducing blood pressure and overall inflammation: fibre is the gift that keeps on giving.
Calcium is a mineral which is essential for a well-functioning cardiac muscle and regulated blood pressure. Calcium-rich foods include dairy, dark leafy greens, tahini and nuts.
Foods rich in the mega-mineral magnesium are your go-to. Magnesium helps to maintain a regular heart rhythm and a healthy cardiovascular system. I recommend upping the avocados (not that you need an excuse), nuts, tofu, whole grains, seeds and oily fish.
Human studies show intermittent fasting has a positive impact on cardiovascular health.
A healthy diet isn’t the only way to a healthy heart; your heart also needs movement. A combination of resistance and aerobic exercise is essential for a strong heart.
Health encompasses more than just diet and exercise; we need to look at the connections that we have with others, too. Having strong social bonds is proven to affect the risk of cardiovascular disease. So if you’ve been looking for a sign to call a friend or family member, this is it.
I don’t mean to be salty, but it’s time to cut down on the salt. The Western diet is filled with sodium, which raises blood pressure and puts unnecessary strain on the heart. Swap the table salt for herbs and spices, and maybe stop placing the salt on the table altogether! Reduce your intake of high-salt food like potato chips, sausages, salami, hot dogs, instant soups or pasta and pre-packaged sauces like tomato sauce and soy sauce. Choose salt-reduced foods wherever possible. Sea and river salt can be a better option than traditional table salt.
I hate to be the fun police but cutting down on the stimulants like coffee, tea, chocolate and alcohol is better for heart health. These foods increase both your heart rate and blood pressure, not to mention the impact they have on your mood, energy and waistline.
Trans fats raise LDL cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease, so avoid them as much as possible. Trans fats are in most processed foods like processed meat, fried foods and desserts.
When it comes to a healthy heart, aim to keep stress to a minimum. Stress can bring on arrhythmias (an irregular heartbeat) and place pressure on the heart. Include stress-busting activities in your weekly routine, like speaking to a loved one, meditating, walking, journaling or yoga.
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your heart. Not only does smoking increase the formation of plaque in blood vessels, but some chemicals in cigarettes can cause the blood to thicken and form clots inside veins and arteries. If you’re a smoker, I highly recommend quitting.
Now that’s out of the way, I’m sure you can’t wait to get going on your heart-healthy way!
If you want to get started now, get among my heart-healthy Crispy Salmon from my latest cookbook Supercharge Your Life. Full of anti-inflammatory salmon, antioxidant-rich herbs and veggies, this quick and fresh meal is one that will make your heart happy. Oh, and your mouth water, too.
Crispy Salmon with Saffron, Aioli & Smashed Green Peas
- Saffron Aioli
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp sea salt
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Pinch saffron threads, soaked in a little lemon juice
1½ cups extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Smashed Peas
- 200g frozen peas
50mL vegetable stock or filtered water
Pinch sea salt
Juice 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Handful mint leaves
1 tbsp snipped chives
- 4 salmon fillets, skin on
- Sea salt, for rubbing
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lemon, sliced & roasted, to serve (optional)
- Chives & edible flowers, to serve (optional)
- To make the saffron aioli, whiz the garlic, lemon juice, salt, egg yolks and mustard in a food processor.
- Add the saffron and process again.
- With the motor still running, very slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The mixture will emulsify to a mayonnaise-like consistency. Season to taste.
- To make the smashed peas, put the peas and stock in a medium saucepan, season with salt and cook over medium–high heat, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender. Remove from the heat, strain and stir in the butter.
- Gently mash the peas with a fork, then stir in the lemon juice and black pepper. Mix in the olive oil a little at a time, until the peas have the desired consistency. Fold in the herbs.
- Pat the salmon dry with paper towel and rub salt into the skin. Heat a large frying pan over medium–high heat, then add the olive oil and heat until the oil shimmers.
- Place the salmon fillets in the pan, skin side down, and press on them with a spatula to ensure all of the skin is in contact with the pan. Cook for 4-5 mins, until the skin is crispy and the salmon is still pink inside. Turn over with a spatula, turn off the heat and let the fish sit in the pan for no more than 1 min.
- Divide the smashed peas between four serving plates and top with the salmon and the roasted lemon slices, if using. Garnish with chives and edible flowers, if using, and serve with the aioli on the side.
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