The ideal diet for preventing stroke, heart disease and more is essentially the same.

One simple eating plan to prevent disease

Cara Rosenbloom, RD
Whole foods deliver fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

If vegetables, fish and beans are your dietary staples and whole grains frequently appear on your plate, you’ve got the makings of the diet that can help combat many chronic diseases.

If these aren’t your top picks, listen up. Enjoying a combination of these foods is the best way to reduce your risk of developing any or all of the following:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood sugar
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

If you have been diagnosed with more than one of these conditions, you may be overwhelmed by nutrition advice from different sources. The good news? The optimal eating plan for all of them is largely the same: Choose fewer processed foods and fill your plate with more whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low fat milk products, nuts, healthy oils, and protein-rich foods such as fish, legumes and skinless poultry.

Whole foods deliver disease-fighting fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to reduce your risk of heart disease. Plus, they leave less room on your plate for processed foods, which tend to be high in heart-unfriendly nutrients like sodium, trans fat and sugar. Make a point of avoiding deep fried foods, white bread, processed meat and fast food.

Superfoods, specifically
Here are some whole foods that stand out as nutrition all-stars. Make these the cornerstones of your eating plan, and you’ll be on your way to a healthy heart.

1. Nuts: An ounce of unsalted nuts about four times a week can help cut heart disease risk by 37 per cent. Such a simple and delicious change has so much power. Why? Nuts contain healthy fats and plant sterols which lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels; they contain the right mix of fat and protein to help stabilize blood sugar levels, and they contain key minerals, such as magnesium and potassium, which help reduce blood pressure. Super indeed. Your best bet is to enjoy 1/4 cup of unsalted mixed nuts a few times a week, to replace another snack (not in addition to your current diet).

2. Soluble fibre: Foods high in soluble fibre delay the absorption of glucose in the small intestine, which helps keep your blood sugar levels more stable after meals. Soluble fibre also acts like a broom to sweep away LDL cholesterol. These foods are particularly high in soluble fibre, so include them whenever you can:

  • Vegetables: eggplant, okra
  • Fruits: apples, pears
  • Grains: oats, pot barley
  • Legumes: lentils, beans and peas.

Try Broccoli salad with avocado dressing.

3. Fish: DHA and EPA, two types of omega-3 fat that are found in fish, have been shown to:

  • Help lower triglycerides, a type of fat that circulates in the blood (high levels are linked to heart disease)
  • Produce small reductions in blood pressure in people with hypertension
  • Lower the risk of stroke by as much as 27 per cent, when you eat two 2.5 ounce servings of fatty fish per week. Note: very high fish consumption (more than 46 grams/1.5 oz of fish per day) may increase stroke risk.

Stick with fatty fish such as trout, salmon, sardines and mackerel, which are highest in omega-3 fat. Try Grilled salmon pizza on the barbecue.

4. Whole grains: From cereal to crackers, it’s important to replace refined grains (white rice, flour) with whole grain products. Studies show that people who consume 3-5 servings per day, compared to those who eat fewer whole grains, have a 26 per cent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and 21 per cent lower risk of developing heart disease. Try Steel cut oat and strawberry salad.

Whole foods are the way to go. Not only can they help treat the conditions above, but they can help prevent them from occurring at all. Add in some daily physical activity and you’ve got the makings of a very heart healthy lifestyle.

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