Friday, June 14, 2024

Are You Eating Smart For Your Heart?

Most likely you know someone affected by heart disease. Today, about 2.4 million Canadian adults (that is one in 12 people) suffer from conditions such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, angina, arrhythmias, and heart failure.(1) 

Certainly there are some risk factors that you cannot control such as your age, gender, and genes. But what about the risk factors that you can control like quitting smoking, increasing exercise, and even what you eat?(2) In fact, with heart disease – prevention is key. A staggering 9 out of 10 Canadians have a least one risk factor. Early detection and management of medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol can help you reduce your risk of heart disease.(1) Almost 80 percent of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices.(3) So let’s break down a heart healthy diet.

Check your cholesterol

Go easy on fried foods, which have a large amount of fat. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, foomtsuruhashi.

Cholesterol is a necessary part of your body’s cell structure. It helps make vitamin D, bile and some hormones. Even though cholesterol is necessary for the body, having levels that are too high can increase your heart disease risk.(4) 

Checking your cholesterol levels regularly is one action step you can take towards knowing your risk. Top tips for helping to prevent or manage high cholesterol levels include reducing your total saturated fat and trans fat intake. This includes choosing lean cuts of meat such as skinless poultry, lower fat dairy products and increasing fish and legumes intake. Try baking or steaming food instead of frying. Increasing your consumption of soluble dietary fibre, found in oat bran, barley, nuts and seeds, can also help to lower your cholesterol levels

Carbs count! 

When thinking about heart health salt intake is often what comes to mind, but it is just as important to consider your carbohydrate choices. Carbohydrates can be broken down into three categories: sugar, starch and fibre.

Swap white rice for brown to add more fibre into your diet. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Arria Belli.

Start by decreasing how much highly processed foods you eat. They tend to be high in sugar and low in fibre. Instead, focus on increasing fibre in your diet. Aim for 25-38 grams per day.(6) You can do this by always including fruits and vegetables at every meal. For example, one medium pear with the skin on contains up to 5.5 grams of fibre.(6 )

Strive to consume whole grains at least 50 percent of the time. Don’t like brown rice? Try mixing it with basmati rice. Also incorporate more vegetarian protein sources like lentils, beans, and chickpeas into your meals. Next time you make chili, replace half of the ground beef with lentils to give your dish a fibre boost.


Where does fat fall?

Make fish a regular part of your diet to get necessary omega-3 fatty acids. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Ritesh Man Tamrakar

Not all fats are created equal. When it comes to heart health, limiting trans and saturated fats is key. Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are a type of fat that are protective of the heart. A component of PUFAs is omega-3 fatty acids which can protect against cardiac arrhythmias, lower blood pressure, and even help to lower triglycerides.(7, 8) 

Foods high in omega-3 include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout. To meet your omega-3 requirements include at least two servings per week (one serving is 75g cooked). Don’t like fish? Regularly include foods such as ground flax seed, walnuts, canola oil, edamame, tofu, and pumpkin seeds.(9) You may also consider taking an omega 3 supplement. Talk to your doctor or dietitian first.

Slowing down on sodium

It is well known that too much sodium can increase your blood pressure therefore  increasing your risk of heart disease. But still most of us consume two or even three times the recommended daily amount per day.(10) Up to 90 percent of Canadian adults will develop high blood pressure in their lifetime. Diet can have a major role in either preventing or causing high blood pressure.(11) Almost three quarters of our sodium

Watch out for sneaky sources of sodium. Photo:

comes from processed foods like deli meats, soups, prepackaged snacks, and sauces. Try looking at the label for words such as “sodium-free,” “low sodium,” “reduced sodium,” or “no added salt” to help reduce added sodium.Change up snacking on chips with unsalted popcorn. Replace instant hot cereal with overnight rolled oats. Love sandwiches? Make extra chicken at dinner and use the leftovers instead of buying deli meats. Often there are no symptoms of high blood pressure so it’s important to take control of your own health and check your blood pressure regularly.(11)

 While your diet can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, incorporating regular physical activity, stress management and good quality sleep are also part of the heart health equation. Looking for help taking control of your health and improving your diet? Your Shopper’s Drug Mart and Wellwise registered dietitians are available for personalized nutrition advice tailored to your health needs. For more information, visit book you appointment today.


The information provided is for personal use, reference and education only and is not intended to be a substitute for a physician’s advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific information on personal health matters. Please note: Dietitian services are currently only available in select Ontario stores. Please contact your store to learn more. ®/TM 911979 Alberta Ltd. ©2019 Shoppers Drug Mart Inc.

Jemma Besson is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator who works for Shoppers Drug Mart®.


(1) Government of Canada. (2017). Heart Disease in Canada. Retrieved from:

(2) Heart Research Institute. Facts about Heart Disease. Retrieved from:

(3) Heart and Stroke. Risk & Prevention. Retrieved from:

(4) Unlock Food. (2017) Facts on Cholesterol. Retrieved from:

(5) Today’s Dietitian. (2018) Dietary Fibre: Fibre – Increase Amount and Variety. Retrieved from:

(6) Today’s Dietitian. (2016). Fibre: Creative Ideas to Boost Intake. Retrieved from:

(7) Unlock Food. (2018). Facts on Fat. Retrieved from:

(8) Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source. Fish: Friend or Foe? Retrieved from:

(9) Unlock Food. (2018). Omega-3 Fats Deliver Oh Mega Benefits. Retrieved from:

(10) Heart and Stroke. Salt. Retrieved from:

(11) Unlock Food. (2016). Hypertension: How to prevent and treat the silent killer.

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