Tips for a healthy heart


submitted by Saman Shaikh, RD., M.Sc.
Registered Dietitian and Public Health Nutritionist
Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit 

February is Heart Month. According to the Government of Canada, heart disease is the 2nd leading cause of death in Canada. About 1 in 12 Canadian adults live with diagnosed heart disease. Heart disease affects men and women differently. 

Some risk factors of heart disease include diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and stress. Common signs of heart disease include fainting, chest pain or pressure, and shortness of breath.

For heart disease, prevention is key. Eating healthy, being physically active, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, and, managing your stress and current health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes are all important for reducing your risk of heart disease. 

There are a few things we can do to prevent heart disease.

Eat healthy for your heart

A heart healthy diet includes foods low in saturated and trans fat, and sodium, and high in unsaturated fat, vegetables and fruit, plant-based proteins, whole grains, and fibre

Move more, sit less – Unless you have been advised not to, do moderate to vigorous physical activity throughout your week and reduce sedentary screen time. Choose activities that you enjoy and that fit your lifestyle.

Health Canada recommends 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, such as a brisk walk, hiking, jogging, biking, or swimming, along with at least two days of strength activities each week. 

If you smoke, quit – Ask your family doctor about support with quitting, or contact our Health Unit’s smoking cessation team for help. There is no safe level of tobacco use, so even if you smoke a little, consider quitting.  

If you drink alcohol, drink less – Heart disease risk increases with 7 or more standard drinks per week. Try to replace these with non-alcohol options, and if you are trying to relax or recharge, spend some time in nature or being active instead. 

Manage your stress – Explore activities that help you manage your stress, such as mindfulness and yoga, journalling, and connecting with others

Manage your health – If you have a health condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, take control of your health and follow up with your health care team regularly. If you have been prescribed any medications for your health, take them regularly

Here are some tips for eating healthy for your heart.

A heart healthy diet includes foods low in saturated and trans fat, and sodium, and high in unsaturated fat, plant-based foods, vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and fibre. To cook with less fat, steam, boil, bake or grill your food more often than frying.

Choose low fat dairy, limit butter and shortening, remove the skin from poultry, and drain the fat from cooked ground meat.

Include heart healthy fats in your diet by cooking with liquid oils such as olive oil, having omega-3 rich fish such as salmon or trout regularly, and including nuts and seeds and their butters often.

Choose plant based protein foods such as soy and tofu, beans, dried peas, and lentils regularly.

Cook with more vegetables and fruit by having a variety of canned and frozen vegetables and fruit on hand, adding shredded vegetables like carrots and zucchini to spaghetti sauce, and keeping containers of diced fresh vegetables in your fridge to use in recipes.

To reduce sodium, prepare your own meals often and add less salt. Flavour your food with herbs, spices, and flavourings such as garlic, ginger, and lemon juice.

Limit processed foods, choose low or no sodium options, and rinse canned vegetables and beans under cold water to wash away some of the salt.

To have higher fibre, choose whole grain or whole wheat options such as whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta. 

Cook with whole grain options such as quinoa, barley, wild rice, and oats.

Add ground flax to smoothies, salads and muffins for a fibre boost.

Visit our website at, call us at 1-800-660-5853, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. Also visit for more information on heart healthy cooking, and for information on physical activity guidelines.


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