Fortunately, there’s plenty we can do to reduce our risk of heart disease, including maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced, nutritious diet. Better still, achieving these things isn’t all about deprivation. One of the foods we can enjoy in plentiful amounts is actually one of the nation’s favourite foods – we’re talking fish!
Health experts recommend we should eat two portions of fish every week, one of which should be an oil-rich fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring, fresh tuna, trout or salmon. Here, registered dietitian and nutritionist Juliette Kellow reveals how eating more fish as part of a balanced, varied diet can help you love your heart…
Cast out the fat…
Eating less fat overall is important for keeping our heart healthy and maintaining a healthy weight. As a rule, it’s best to have no more than 70g fat a day. Most white fish and shellfish are low in fat so contribute very little to the maximum amount we should have in a day. For example, 140g baked cod provides just 0.7g fat, while 140g cooked prawns provides only 1.3g fat.
…especially saturated fat
High intakes of saturated fat are linked to high blood cholesterol, a condition that affects around half of all Brits and increases the risk of heart disease. For a healthy heart, it’s recommended we have no more than 20g saturates a day. However, official figures reveal the nation’s intake of saturated fat currently remains too high. Most white fish and shellfish are naturally low in saturated fat and so contribute only small amounts to this. For example, a small tin of tuna in water (120g drained weight) and 140g baked plaice each have only 0.4g saturates.
…and eat more unsaturated fats instead
Experts agree that replacing some of the saturated fat in our diet with unsaturated fats such as polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats can help to maintain normal cholesterol levels. Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon and trout can help with this as much of the fat they contain is unsaturated. For example, 70 percent of the fat in sardines is unsaturated, 72 percent in herring and 78 percent in mackerel.
3’s not a crowd
Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon and trout are rich in particular types of long-chain polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 fats, which play a role in helping the heart to work normally. In particular, these fats also help to maintain blood levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood, which when raised increases our risk of heart disease.
Pick up a prawn
Year’s ago health experts recommended avoiding prawns as they contain more cholesterol than many other foods. However, research now shows that for most people, the cholesterol in foods like prawns doesn’t usually contribute that much to the level of cholesterol in our blood. Instead, it’s too many saturates that can cause an increase in cholesterol, which is why it’s important to eat fewer foods that are high in these fats. So unless you have Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (a genetic condition that affects around one in 500 people and causes exceptionally high levels of cholesterol) or your doctor has advised you otherwise, it’s fine to eat prawns as part of the recommended two portions of seafood a week.
Take the pressure down
Almost one in three adults in the UK have high blood pressure, a condition that triples a person’s chance of developing heart disease or having a stroke. It’s good news then that the omega-3 fats found in oily fish are known to play a role in helping to maintain normal blood pressure – yet another good reason to make sure you eat the recommended one weekly serving.
Assault on salt
Another thing we can do to help maintain a healthy blood pressure is to cut down on the amount of salt in our diet – health experts recommend we have less than 6g a day. Many fresh and frozen fish are naturally low in salt so can be a good choice (although you should avoid adding salt or salty ingredients to them such as soy sauce). Smoked fish and many varieties of canned fish can contain more salt so where possible, check the salt content on food labels and opt for products that contain the least – those with no more than 0.3g salt per 100g are considered to be low in salt.
Get – and stay – in shape
Almost two thirds of people in the UK are overweight or obese, conditions that increase the risk of heart disease. Health experts agree it’s best to lose weight slowly and steadily by taking more exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet that’s slightly lower in calories. White fish such as cod, plaice, haddock and coley, and shellfish such as prawns, mussels and crab, are a great choice if you want to reduce your calories without resorting to small portions or missing out on taste. For example, 140g grilled haddock provides just 138 calories, while 140g cooked prawns has 98 calories. Adults should aim for 2,000 calories a day to maintain their weight.