Your Health

How to have a heart-healthy diet

Photo of food in a Mediterranean diet,
Photo of Jennifer Gashinski. JENNIFER GASHINSKI
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, February 16, 2018

Did you know that eight out of 10 cases of premature heart disease and stroke are preventable through healthy lifestyle behaviours?

Considering that heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada, it is important for all of us to take action to keep our hearts healthy.

One way to do that is to follow a healthy diet.

The foods you choose to eat daily can have a big impact on your health, either positive or negative. Your food choices can increase your cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar – or they can lower it.

We often hear “don’t eat this, don’t eat that.” Instead of making change negative, focus on positive changes. Stop listing “bad” foods to avoid or limit, and think what you can add to your diet to make it heart-healthy. Adding in healthy foods helps you naturally replace some less healthy options.
A great place to start is to choose more foods from a plant-based, Mediterranean diet. Research shows this focus on foods with high amounts of antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory effects may reduce heart disease risk. Here are a few heart-healthy additions to consider:

Fruit and vegetables (at least five servings per day):
Studies show that eating fruit and vegetables reduces our risk for heart disease, yet most of us still do not eat enough fruits and veggies. These foods give us vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre. Aim for three servings of fruit (each equal to one small fruit or ½ cup) through the day, with breakfast, as part of your snack, or as dessert. Get two servings of vegetables at both lunch and supper with just one cup of leafy greens and ½ cup of another type. Fresh is great, but frozen can be just as good. Try a mix of preparations, including raw, steamed, in soup, roasted, and sautéed. If choosing canned, look for low-sodium and low-sugar options.

Olive oil (three tablespoons per day): You don’t have to eat a low-fat diet for heart health. Including heart-healthy unsaturated fats such as olive oil is actually beneficial. Aim to use this oil daily for cooking or as dressing for salads. (Note: extra virgin olive oil is suitable for cooking up to 410F.)

Nuts and seeds (one serving per day): Nuts and seeds contain unsaturated fats, phytochemicals, fibre, vitamins, and minerals which all work together to offer protection from inflammation and heart disease. The balance of protein, fat, and fibre also make them a perfect energizing snack. Get your daily dose by portioning ¼ cup servings for a 3 p.m. pick-me-up.  

Pulses (at least ¾ cup twice a week, but aim for more): Pulses include beans, lentils, chickpeas, and dried peas. These foods are a great source of plant-based protein, but also include soluble fibre and antioxidants. Research shows that eating pulses can lower cholesterol and blood pressure and help with weight management, all of which can lower your risk for heart disease. Try a meatless meal a few times a week. For example, replace the meat in your tacos with beans.

Fish (at least twice a week):
Salmon, sardines, herring, and trout are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fats, which can prevent heart disease. One serving is the size and thickness of the palm of your hand. Try adding canned salmon to your pasta dish, or make a salmon patty for your burger.

Garlic (daily): Garlic has compounds that may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure – both important for heart health. Try to add garlic to at least one meal every day. Don’t forget to add other herbs and spices to boost antioxidant intake and flavour your foods without salt.

Are you getting enough of these foods? If not, cut out this article out and stick it on the fridge as a reminder. If you want to learn more about the Mediterranean diet or how you can eat for heart health, book an appointment with a registered dietitian or call Dial-a-Dietitian at 204-788-8248 or toll-free at 1-877-830-2892.

For more information about the Wellness Institute, please visit

Jennifer Gashinski is a registered dietitian at the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks Hospital. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, February 16, 2018.

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