Issues of the heart
Hearts are on my mind this month, and not because of Valentine’s Day. National Heart Month is a cause close to my, um, heart.
Thing Two was born with a VSD – a hole in his heart – which I’ve written about previously. I’ve just re-read that article and it made me cry (again!). Mr Maven also needs to be mindful about his heart health. He has sleep apnoea and high blood pressure, which are closely connected. He sleeps with a CPAP machine, which draws in air through a tube and into his nose and mouth – sexy! He also takes blood pressure tablets every day.
So I’m mindful about all things connected to heart health.
How to have a healthy heart
You’d have to be a cave dweller to have missed the NHS’s various public health campaigns to improve the nation’s health. In brief, if you want to improve your heart health you need to:
- Stop smoking
- Cut down on alcohol consumption
- Get active: the NHS says you need to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week.
- Relax and sleep: aim for seven hours of uninterrupted sleep and make sure you incorporate quality down time into your day (including a break from screens before bedtime)
- Eat a balanced diet
All of the above can help you to maintain a healthy weight, which in turn can lower your risk of heart disease.
I’m going to focus on the eating part, as it’s what I’m best at. I’ve gathered information from my recent introduction to nutrition course, and also from award-winning dietitian Sian Porter.
Sian has been working with California Walnuts – the sponsors of this post. A handful of California Walnuts a day (30 grams) can help maintain normal blood cholesterol levels and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. They are the only tree nut high in Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA) – important for heart health.
California Walnuts have the heart-healthy seal of approval from the heart health charity Heart UK, as an ingredient or snack too.
Eat more fibre
Eating plenty of fibre, at least 30g a day, can help lower your risk of heart disease. Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down than simple carbs. And that’s a good thing. Because they are digested more slowly, they keep you fuller and provide energy for longer, and keep your blood sugar levels steady.
Simple carbohydrates – enriched, refined and processed foods – are easy to replace with brown rice, brown pasta and wholewheat. Mr Maven and I have managed the transition.
Walnuts are a heart health powerhouse with 2g of fibre in every handful (30g): easy to incorporate into your porridge or just as a snack.
Make leafy vegetables or salad the heart of your lunch and dinner, making up half your plate at meal times.
Eat more (good) fat
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats are healthy fats which come from plant sources and are usually liquid at room temperature. In moderation these fats can help lower your cholesterol level.
Essential Fatty Acids are necessary fats that humans cannot synthesise, so they are essential to our diet.
Here are some superhero foods, which will give you the good fat and/or fibre you need for a healthy heart.
Not only are walnuts full of fibre and good polyunsaturated fats, but they are also the only tree nut to contain significant amounts of the plant-based essential Omega-3 ALA (2.5g per 30g). Research has shown ALA to have a beneficial role in the prevention of heart disease and strokes.
Avocados contain good monounsaturated fats (5 grams per serving), so your heart will thank you for it.
Whether you eat it fresh, or from frozen or a tin, this oily fish provides a useful amount of essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which contribute to the normal function of the heart and blood pressure. If this fish is not your dish, try trout, mackerel or sardines. Whichever you choose, aim to eat it weekly.
Each medium sized pear will provide 6g fibre. Dip pear slices in walnut butter for a delicious and satisfying pearing. Get it?
Porridge oats are a great way to kick off your metabolism in the morning, but oats are a great heart-friendly choice any time of the day. Oatcakes are a healthy snack, but I find them a bit dry. They’re much improved with a layer of walnut butter spread on top.
Try these tasty dishes
Here are a couple of tasty recipes:
Salmon, Walnut and Avocado Grain Bowls
Kale, grains and toasted walnuts are the base for this healthy bowl. Toss with a chipotle lime vinaigrette and top with salmon, avocado, beans, peppers and coriander.
Chipotle Lime Vinaigrette:
60ml extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp lime juice
3/4 tsp chipotle chilli powder
Pinch black pepper
450g salmon fillets
500g cooked brown rice
120g California walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (plus more for garnish)
400g can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 red or green pepper, diced
1 large avocado, peeled, stoned and cubed
2 large onions, sliced
25g fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- Whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. (May be prepared several days ahead.)
- Cook salmon in a well-oiled frying pan over medium-high heat for 3 – 4 minutes on each side until just cooked throughout. Remove from the pan and remove skin. Let them cool, then cut into 1.5cm pieces.
- Mix kale and brown rice together in a large bowl and toss with vinaigrette. Place equal amounts on one side of 4 large salad bowls.
- Place equal amounts of walnuts, salmon, black beans, peppers, avocado and onion on the other side of the bowl.
- Garnish with coriander and additional walnuts for garnish.
Chunky Monkey Overnight Oats
This simple make-ahead breakfast combines oats, bananas, walnuts and optional dark chocolate for a tasty and satisfying way to start the day.
500ml skimmed, 1% or semi-skimmed milk or fortified unsweetened soya milk
175g rolled oats
2 medium sized ripe bananas, cut into chunks
60g California walnuts, chopped
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 medium sized ripe bananas, sliced
30g California walnuts, chopped
- Add milk, oats, banana, walnuts, and vanilla extract equally to four mason jars. Cover and shake jars to combine ingredients. Refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to serve, top with banana slices, chocolate chips (if using) and walnuts.
Much love, V[Disclosure: AD paid for by the California Walnut Commission. All views are my own]