Did you know that more than 600 thousand people die of heart disease in the United States each year? That’s one in four deaths! Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States.

A lot of people take their health for granted and think this sort of thing won’t happen to them; they think it’s something that happens to other people. Well when you consider these statistics, it’s very likely to happen to you. Women in particular tend to underestimate their risk of heart disease, but the truth is more women die from cardiovascular disease than breast cancer.

In the past, messages designed to educate people about improving their cardiovascular health focused on the “eat less fat” message. We now know the underlying mechanisms of cardiovascular disease are far more complex. Fat clogged arteries are not simply a plumbing problem. There is a reason why arteries get blocked with fat and it all starts with inflammation. Inflammation can cause damage to the inner lining of arteries, which makes them far more likely to accumulate fatty deposits, calcium, and also to form blood clots.

If you are serious about protecting your heart, read on.

My top 5 tips for looking after your heart

  1. Ditch the margarine and use butter instead. Margarine or non-dairy spread is often marketed as a healthier alternative to butter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes most margarine is cholesterol free but that’s irrelevant. Margarine is high in oxidised omega 6 rich vegetable oil, which significantly increases inflammation in the body and subsequently causes damage to the arteries. People have been eating butter for hundreds of years; long before cardiovascular disease reached epidemic proportions. Pastured (grass fed) butter is the healthiest option of all because it is rich in certain beneficial nutrients such as vitamin K2, vitamin D, butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid. Butter does contain saturated fat and that can raise your cholesterol, but if you want to get specific, saturated fat can raise your HDL (good cholesterol) and increase large particle LDL cholesterol while reducing small dense LDL (the type implicated in clogged arteries).
  2. Ditch the bread. Many people are aware that sugar increases the risk of heart attacks, fatty liver, type 2 diabetes, cancer, accelerated aging and many other diseases of modern society. You may not realise that bread is almost as bad as sugar. Most bread has a fairly high glycemic index; that means it raises your blood sugar fairly high fairly quickly. Even wholegrain bread floods your bloodstream with sugar once you’ve digested it. Wheat contains a type of starch called amylopectin A, which is rapidly converted into sugar and likely to promote weight gain around your middle. Gluten free bread isn’t much better because it’s typically made from grains and starches that also have an extremely high glycemic index; these include corn, rice, tapioca and potato. You are best off minimizing bread in your diet and sticking with vegetables, salads, protein and healthy fats; such as in my weight loss book.
  3. Make sure you’re eating enough omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fatty acids are abundantly found in some species of fish and may help to protect you against having a heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone eats oily fish at least twice a week. This is because the omega 3 fats in oily fish help to keep the arteries clean, reduce inflammation and help to keep blood fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides low. The problem is, not everyone enjoys oily fish. The species richest in beneficial fats include wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herrings and mullet. If you’re not eating these varieties, you may want to take fish oil capsules. Fish oil contains the essential fatty acids called EPA and DHA. DHA is the activated form of omega 3 fats, which is necessary for a healthy heart, healthy brain and joints etcetera. The omega 3 fats in plant foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts are the precursor to DHA and much more difficult for the body to utilize.
  4. Try to manage stress and anxiety. Life can get very stressful or busy at times. Long term stress can have a very detrimental effect on your health, even if you are eating well. If you’re currently unable to make changes in your life to reduce stress, please try and find healthy ways of coping with it. Some examples might include speaking to a friend or counsellor about your concerns, joining a yoga or meditation class; exercising; taking a magnesium supplement (available in tablet or ultra potent powder form), or writing in a journal. It is important to have hobbies and passions in life. Most of us spend a large part of our life at work. It’s important to have things to look forward to; things that inspire you and make you excited about getting out of bed.
  5. Make sure you have adequate co enzyme Q10 in your body. Co enzyme Q10 is well known for protecting the heart by increasing the amount of blood and oxygen that reaches this vital organ. It also has blood pressure normalizing abilities. People who are taking cholesterol lowering drugs called statins are typically deficient in co enzyme Q10 because statins block the body’s ability to manufacture this enzyme. Muscle aches and pains are the most common symptom of deficiency. You may not realize that co enzyme Q10 is also required for healthy mitochondria, which are the energy generating factories inside your cells. Therefore people who experience fatigue usually benefit from increasing their intake. If you enjoy eating offal, you probably get plenty of co enzyme Q10, because there’s plenty in heart and liver. If that’s not to your taste, a co enzyme Q10 supplement would greatly benefit you.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.