Hearts: they keep us from being jerks and they also keep us alive, which is preferable and cool. They pump harder than a horndog to move that nutritious blood around your body. They can’t take holidays either, those poor suckers, and if they do – well, you dead. So let’s treat them like the winners that they are, and feed them the sort of rocket fuel that makes them happy.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) envelops a range of diseases, such as heart attacks, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease caused by atherosclerosis (accumulation of plaque on arteries) and thrombosis (sneaky, dirty, nasty blood clots). CVD accounts for significant morbidity and mortality in the developed world and is a leading cause of death in Australia (Heart Foundation 2013). Risk factors for CVD include advancing age, family history, dyslipidemia (cholesterol levels more deranged than Gadaffi), hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption (Lord, help us), inactivity, and, importantly, diet.
Now, any dingleberry could probably tell you that diet affects the incidence of heart fuck-ups, but it’s good to know that epidemiological studies agree. Some foods are beneficial in preventing and treating CVD, and some will gladly jizz all over your heart, spit on it, and walk away high-fiving their evil counterparts. Friggin jerks!
Foods that are Mr Good Boys:
Nuts: Various studies concur that consuming nuts several times a week significantly reduces heart disease and the incidence of myocardial infarctions (when you heart goes “tick.. tick.. tick.. tick BOOM! = not good). Explanations for this benefit include the high quantities of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in nuts. These fats have positive effects on blood lipids by lowering LDL (low density lipoproteins = the bad-arse cholesterol) and total cholesterol, which helps rebalance weirdo-wacky-harmful cholesterol levels. The fats also reduce LDL oxidation. Oxidation of LDL involves that bad-arse cholesterol reacting with free radicals. Let me explain this: imagine the LDL is some dickhead you know. They’re already a dickhead, but then they go and take Crystal meth and then they turn into a right cock, and start punching everyone and smashing things. That is oxidised LDL. It is volatile and it goes and messes up your sweet arteries, damaging the tissues and building plaques (atherosclerosis). So if you reduce this occurrence, and combine it with the anti-inflammatory qualities of nuts, you have yourself a reduced risk of atherosclerosis (remember that shitty stuff that clogs your arteries?).
Arginine, an amino acid present in many nuts, may also prevent and slow progression of CVD. Arginine is a substrate for nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and inhibits atherosclerosis progression through anti-platelet activity. Nitric oxide also helps guys get boners. Just sayin’. Nuts also contain fibre, vitamin E and minerals essential to general heart health. Pass me a nut please, actually, pass me two, as they are best served in pairs. Sorry, Lance, but it’s true.
Whole Grains: These monkeys lower the risk for CVD through various mechanisms. Soluble fibre found in most whole grains lowers blood cholesterol levels by binding with bile acids in the gastrointestinal tract, causing their excretion (like the person on the dance-floor who falls over and drags you down with them). The liver then increases cholesterol consumption to replace lost bile acids, thereby reducing blood cholesterol levels. Thanks liver! You really are a giver.
Whole grains are legendary antioxidants as well. So like their friends, nuts, they prevent oxidation of LDLs (remember those filthy meth-heads?) which reduces the clogging of your arteries and your risk of CVD. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect (through their balancing effect on insulin), which has a positive effect on blood vessel integrity. Aim for a couple of servings of whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, for example) a day, at least! Refined grains, on the other hand, are harmful to the heart, explained down below.
Fruits and Vegetables:
Large scale studies have found that a minimum of 5 serves of fruit/vegetables daily reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by around 30%. Fruit and vegetables are rich in many nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, antioxidants and fibre. These nutrients affect various physiological functions, such as improving blood lipids, blood viscosity and agglutination (whether or not they stick like shit to a blanket), reducing oxidation, reducing blood pressure, and increasing insulin sensitivity. The high fibre content reduces cholesterol (like those lovely Whole Grains). Antioxidant content in fruit and vegetables also benefits individuals by preventing damage to the blood vessels, thereby reducing that shitty, clogging, atherosclerosis.
Combatting hypertension is also essential in managing CVD. Some flavonoids, such as those found in onions and peaches, can assist nitric oxide function, improving blood vessel function. The mineral magnesium is abundant in many fruit and vegetables. It behaves as a calcium channel antagonist which stimulates vasodilation (nice, loose, chilled blood vessels). These effects could reduce blood pressure and strain on the heart. High potassium intake also lowers blood pressure as it encourages the kidneys to excrete sodium.
Eat heaps and heaps of fruit and vegetables. Just do it.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These guys are very special, so they have a post all of their very own, see here:
Foods that will buggar it all up:
Certain foods can contribute to the onset or exacerbation of CVD, and include:
Refined grains: Western diets are high in refined carbohydrates. God damn it. Refined grains have lost many micronutrients during processing and this lack of nutrients compromises the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis, undertake repair and thrive. Boooooooooooo. Studies suggest higher refined carbohydrate messes with cholesterol levels – increasing LDLs (those monsters) and reducing HDLs (the friendly cholesterol). Refined grains are ranked high on the glycaemic index as they are digested quickly, causing blood sugar elevation. This blood sugar spike triggers increased secretion of insulin. If refined grains are consumed in excess over long periods, metabolic damage and insulin resistance can occur. This constant spiking and falling of blood sugar levels and insulin levels damages blood vessels and promotes inflammation, which in turn can increase atherosclerosis. Let’s not ignore that consumption of refined grains is also correlated with obesity, a predominant risk factor for CVD.
We have all heard dudes roostering on about saturated fat being bad for the heart, but modern research suggests that refined grains are more detrimental to CVD risk than saturated fat (if you are interested for more information, check out this and that). So to look after your ticker, and your entire body (waistline included) ditch refined grains and replace them with whole grains.
Trans Fatty Acids: Trans fats. What a bunch of absolute menaces. Complete arseholes. They are artificial and are found in many fried foods and hydrogenated vegetable oils such as margarine. That’s right, margarine is not healthy. Consumption of trans fats has been strongly associated with a higher risk of CVD. Trans fats adversely affect blood lipids, and excessive consumption raises LDL cholesterol (bad dudes) while lowering HDL cholesterol (good dudes). These absolute dropkicks also promote inflammation and thrombus formation (blood clots that can find themselves causing very inconvenient blood-vessel roadblocks: the kind that make you go dead). They are in deep-fried foods, many packaged foods (like snack foods), baked foods, and margarine.
There is so much more to talk about, and so many foods to have and to leave. But if you’re eating real food (whole foods, not packet foods) then you’re on the right track. Food doesn’t just determine your size, it also determines the health of your precious inners. Like you, I kind of need my heart. I’m still going to eat a sausage roll every now and then, I’m not going to lie to you. But let’s try to do more of the good stuff, and less of the bad.
READING, IF YOU’RE A NERD:
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Appel, L., Br, S, M., Daniels, S., Karanja, N., Elmer, P. and Sacks, F. 2006. ‘Dietary approaches to prevent and treat hypertension a scientific statement from the American Heart Association’. Hypertension, 47 (2), pp. 296-308. Available at: http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/47/2/296.full
Connor, W. 2000. ‘Importance of n- 3 fatty acids in health and disease’. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 71 (1), pp. 171-175. Available at: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/1/171S.full
Damasceno, N., Perez-Heras, A., Serra, M., Cofan, M., Sala-Vila, A., Salas-Salvado, J. and Ros, E. 2011. ‘Crossover study of diets enriched with virgin olive oil, walnuts or almonds. Effects on lipids and other cardiovascular risk markers’. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 21 pp. 14-20. Available at: http://predimed.onmedic.net/Portals/0/crossover.pdf
Dauchet, L., Amouyel, P., Hercberg, S. and Dallongeville, J. 2006. ‘Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of cohort studies’. The Journal of Nutrition, 136 (10), pp. 2588-2593. Available at: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/136/10/2588.full
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Heart Foundation Australia. 2013. Data and Statistics. Available at: http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/information-for-professionals/data-and-statistics/Pages/default.aspx
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