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Diet and cardiovascular disease

Hypertension, being overweight and having high cholesterol are all risk factors for heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease – and all of these can be impacted by diet.

Having a healthy, balanced diet can go a long way in improving these risk factors. We take a look at some of the diets that are often recommended for heart health.

DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)

The DASH diet includes foods that are low in sodium and rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium. It helps to reduce your consumption of saturated fat and salt and encourages the regular consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, fish and poultry and low-fat dairy.

Mediterranean Diet

A Mediterranean Diet is high in monounsaturated fat and low in saturated fat. It encourages the consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains and cereals and the moderate intake of milk and dairy products. People on this diet also have a low consumption of meat (around one serving per week), and an increased intake of oily fish such as salmon. It also allows low-to-moderate consumption of red wine.

Portfolio Diet

This is very similar to the DASH and Mediterranean Diets. It's a largely vegetarian diet and it is specifically designed to lower cholesterol. It encourages low intake of saturated fat but high intakes of vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, plant sterols (found in olive oil and some fruit and nuts, for example), fibre and soy protein.

Which diet is best?

Dr Peter Larsen says: “I recommend my patients who have got existing cardiovascular disease to follow a predominantly Mediterranean or DASH Diet. So, a vegetarian-based diet with red meat in in a low amount.”

Dr Stuart Butterly recommends people make the Australian Dietary Guidelines their first stop when it comes to healthy eating. “Their recommendation has been rather than following a strict menu plan, just to think of some concepts that may be beneficial for people,” he said.

“They suggest eating plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grains, as well as a variety of healthy protein sources, including fish and seafood, lean meat, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds. They also encourage people to make healthy fat choices (eg nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil).”

Patients should also aim to cut their salt, using herbs to flavour their food instead, and to drink plenty of water.

Where to find more information

View the Australian Dietary Guidelines at www.eatforhealth.gov.au. You will discover lots of resources, including an outline of the five main food groups, what a serving looks like and the foods we should all try and limit.

You can also listen to our podcast on this topic here.

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