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Eat your heart out - Heart Awareness Month

During Heart Month here at Total Exercise Physiology we are urging you to understand the risk factors of heart disease and what actions you can take to help keep your heart healthy and strong.

Cardiovascular disease, heart disease and heart attack

One-fifth of Australians aged 45-74 years are at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of death in Australia, with 43 477 deaths attributed to CVD in Australia in 2017. Cardiovascular disease kills one Australian every 12 minutes (

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

90% of Australians have at least one risk factor for heart disease. The more risk factors for coronary heart disease you have, the greater your chance of developing it. The good news is that for most risk factors, you can do something about them

Risks you can control:

  • Smoking

  • Cholesterol

  • High Blood pressure

  • Being inactive

  • Diabetes

  • Unhealthy diet

There are some risk factors that you cannot control such as age, gender, ethnic background and family history (for more information on these check out the heart research website, therefore it is important to focus on the things that you can change. A healthy diet is one of the most important ways you can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

What is a 'healthy diet'?

Eating a healthy diet for improved heart health involves focusing on your diet as a whole, not just seeing one food group as ‘bad’. Healthy eating involves choosing a combination of foods that are low in saturated fats, salt and added sugar and are rich in wholegrains, fibre, vitamins and unsaturated fats. Here are 5 things to think about eating for a healthy heart.

1. Avoid Saturated Fat

Saturated fat is found mainly in animal products. Eating saturated fats raises the total level of cholesterol in your blood, as well as the level of LDL (bad cholesterol). This LDL then contributes to fatty build up in the arteries.

Ways to decrease saturated fat intake include:

  • Trimming fat from meat, removing skin from chicken, choosing to grill instead of frying, limiting salami and processed meats.

  • Swapping butter for a spread made from nuts, canola, sunflower, olive or dairy blends.

  • Limiting the intake of biscuits, cakes and pastry, pizzas and other take-away foods and keeping an eye on the frequency and portion size.

2. Reduce salt intake

Reducing salt intake reduces the risk of high blood pressure and promotes better cardiovascular health for most people.

According to Heart Research Australia, around 75% of the salt (also known as sodium) we eat comes from processed foods. Many Australians are aware they shouldn’t be eating too much salt and have stopped adding salt in cooking or at the table. However, common foods such as bread, biscuits, cereals, processed meat and pre-prepared meals can have very high levels of ‘hidden’ salt. Limit the amount of processed and packaged food you consume or choose option that are labelled ‘reduced salt’.

3. Dairy and Eggs

Dairy is considered to be part of a healthy diet and shouldn’t be eliminated for heart health. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium and protein. However, if you do suffer from high cholesterol, heart disease or type 2 diabetes it is advised you stick to low fat-dairy. Eggs are also a great source of protein, and omega 3s. In the past the heart healthy guidelines had recommended a limit on eggs consumed per week, this is now only the case if you experience heart disease or type two diabetes, in this case it is recommended to stick with seven eggs or less per week.

4. Meat and Fish

When choosing meat opt for lean cuts and remember the guideline for red meat is 1-3 serves per week. ( What is a serve? ) It is also important to limit your intake of processed or deli meats which are often high in saturated fats, sodium and preservatives.

Alternatively, fish is a great protein source to include in the diet. Aim to include fish 3 times per week, either fresh or canned. Fish contains omega 3 fats, which are considered one of the ‘good’ fats that helps lower cholesterol levels and prevent blood clotting. Oily fish is particularly high in Omega 3 and can be found in tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, and trout.

5. Increase Fruit & Vegetable Intake

Last but not least, fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet as they are full of essential vitamins and minerals, fibre, antioxidants and other nutrients. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommend consuming 5 serves of vegetables per day and 2 serves of fruit. The fibre found in fruits, vegetables and whole-grains also assists by lowering cholesterol re-absorption, and aids to improve blood glucose level control and improving bowel habits and gut health.

For individual advice on how to best manage your diet it is always best to consult with your Accredited Practising Dietitian, so they can tailor advice to your individual needs.

Happy eating - Leah.

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