Getting results from a heart-healthy diet
Unlike diets to lose weight, adopting a heart-healthy diet is about getting results on the inside in places you can't see.
Eating fewer 'bad' fats and more 'good' ones, plus cutting down on salt, can help prevent blocked arteries and help lower high blood pressure.
What kind of heart-healthy results will you see?
First, it's important to know that multiple lifestyle changes are vital for healthier living. Steps such as a balanced diet, physical activity, weight maintenance and stress reduction work cooperatively and have an accumulative effect. One change may make a small difference, but many little changes add up to significant results.
What sort of results? The answers depend on the heart-healthy changes you make and on your own unique make-up.
- Following a healthy diet: eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy foods, especially foods rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium. Eating less red meat, sugars and saturated fat. Reducing daily salt to no more than 6g, about one teaspoon, per day. Check food labels where traffic light systems can show high salt foods. Look for a reduction in blood pressure.
- Following a diet for people with high cholesterol: reducing saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, and adding plant sterols/stanols and fibre to your daily diet. A doctor or a dietitian can help you adapt your diet. Look for a reduction in LDL "bad" cholesterol.
- Weight loss: Aim to reach a healthy body mass index, or BMI. Expect to see a reduction in blood pressure and a drop in LDL cholesterol.
- Exercise for at least 150 minutes a week on as many days of the week as possible. Inactive people will quickly gain benefits when they start exercising. Look for a reduction in blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and weight, and HDL "good" cholesterol to go up.
- Reduce stress and look for a blood pressure reduction, improved sleep and possibly some weight loss.
The long-term heart health benefits from these lifestyle changes are huge. Controlling your blood pressure alone can reduce your risk of a heart attack lower your risk of stroke, and reduce your risk of heart failure.
When will you see heart-healthy results?
How long will it take to see reductions in blood pressure and total cholesterol? Give yourself at least three months to see results, though you may see changes as quickly as three to four weeks.
Three months is a good rule of thumb, however most doctors will suggest you wait at least that long before having further tests to check your progress.
Better heart health: Questions to ask your doctor
One key in successfully lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure is to work closely with your doctor. After you've made the lifestyle changes necessary, questions you might want to ask your doctor at the next check-up include:
- What are my target blood pressure and cholesterol levels?
- How close am I to my target blood pressure and cholesterol levels?
- What should I do if the results aren't what I expected?
- Can a referral to a dietitian help me meet my goals?
- Can I reach my blood pressure and cholesterol goals with lifestyle changes alone?
- Should I have blood tests to check for gaps in my diet such as vitamin D and calcium?
- With my current diet and exercise level can I reasonably expect to reach my cholesterol and blood pressure goals?
- At what point will we consider medication to help control my blood pressure or cholesterol?
- After reaching my target goals will I be able to stop medication?
- When should I have my next check-up?