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A healthy diet for hearts and minds

One of the best ways to look after your brain is to look after your heart, and a healthy diet is a great way to do that.
by Hannah Gresham-Britt, Accredited Practicing Dietitian 

When reading about nutrition and healthy diets, you will encounter countless articles and information about healthy diets and healthy eating for your heart. But did you know that healthy eating for your heart is good for your brain too?

The brain is one of the hungriest organs in the body, using about 20% of the oxygen we breath and the energy we eat. This means that the brain relies on a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood pumped from the heart in order to function properly and stay healthy. Taking good care of your heart health, therefore, can help you look after your brain by making sure it gets enough oxygen and calories.

Studies have shown that people who look after their heart health are less likely to develop dementia. One study from Finland looked at people who made positive health changes in midlife, such as switching to healthier fats, increasing the amount of vegetables they ate and reducing salt. People who made these heart-healthy changes were less likely to develop dementia when the researchers checked in with them up to twenty years later.

Other studies have looked at the relationship between heart health – factors like a person’s history of heart disease, levels of bad cholesterol and high blood pressure – and the risk of developing dementia. People with healthy hearts who keep their blood pressure and cholesterol to a healthy level in midlife are less likely to develop dementia than people with heart disease (2).

One of the best ways to look after your brain is to look after your heart, and a healthy diet is a great way to do that.

How to eat for a healthy heart

The types of foods – and the amounts we eat – can affect our heart and our brain health. Here are some changes you can make to your diet to benefit your heart and brain.

Switch from animal fats to plant oils

Some types of fats and oils are associated with good heart health, and some are associated with poor heart health. Fats and oils that come from plants, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds are healthier. Fats that come from animals, such as butter, cream and fatty cuts of meat are less healthy for your heart.

Eat more fish

Fish is full of a certain type of fat, omega-3 fatty acids, which has health benefits for your brain, nervous system and heart. Aim to eat 3 fish meals or snacks per week. Try eating adding a fish dinner once per week and adding a tin of tuna or salmon to your lunches twice per week.

Reduce salt and salty foods

Eating lots of salt and salty foods can increase your blood pressure, which puts extra pressure on your heart and blood vessels. Common sources of salt in the Australian diet include processed foods, deli meats, takeaway foods, and pre-prepared sauces. Try flavouring your food with fresh herbs and spices instead, and switch from pre-prepared food to home-cooked. When reducing salt in your diet, give yourself a few weeks for your tastebuds to adjust to the different flavours.

Eat fibre rich foods

Fibre (also known as roughage) is a nutrient found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrain and legumes. It is important for keeping your gut healthy and for keeping regular bowel habits. Eating these fibre rich foods also benefits your heart by helping control cholesterol, inflammation and blood sugar levels (if you have diabetes).

Reduce your intake of fried foods and sugary foods

Sugary foods such as sweets, cakes and biscuits and fried foods can be an enjoyable treat, however they are not good for your heart health. Limit these foods to small serves, and enjoy them on special occasions rather than every day.


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