Look after your heart

September is Irish Heart Month, this week on the blog we are putting a focus on heart health, with a particular emphasis on the different types of fats we are consuming. We are also sharing some helpful tips from the Irish Heart Foundation that will help to keep your heart healthy!

Saturated and Unsaturated Fats

Do you know the difference between Saturated and Unsaturated fats? 

  • Saturated Fats are found in relatively high amounts in many meats, dairy, pastries, cakes, biscuits and some take-away meals. Saturated fat and cholesterol have been linked by a number of studies. as having too much cholesterol in the blood is one of the risk factors in the development of coronary heart disease. While it’s not practical to eliminate saturated fat in your diet entirely, replacing saturated fats with more unsaturated fats in the diet has been shown to lower blood cholesterol.
  • Unsaturated Fats are normally found in plant-based foods and are typically good for heart health. There are two main types of unsaturated fats: Polyunsaturated fats & Monounsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fats which are found in fish, plus omega-6 fats which are found in some oils such as safflower and soybean oil, along with some nuts, including brazil nuts. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive and canola oil, avocados and some nuts, such as cashews and almonds.

Simple Steps to Limit Your Fat Intake

As noted above, while there are differences in the types of fats we consume, they are still an essential part of a healthy diet. The issue is that many of us consume too much of the wrong type. There are simple steps you can take to reduce your unhealthy fat intake, which include: 
  • Choose to steam, boil, or bake food rather than frying or roasting. 
  • Choose low fat alternatives of dairy products where possible.
  • Snack on fruit and veg which are naturally low in fat.
  • Ask for lean cuts of meat, and trim off any excess fat before cooking.
  • Limit sweets, biscuits, cakes, and crisps to occasional treats rather than every-day foods.
  • Replace butter or lard with a small amount (about a teaspoon per person) of vegetable oil or vegetable spread. 
  • Have a daily portion of unsalted nuts. A portion is a small handful (40g / 1.5oz)
  • Include 1-2 portions of oily fish (e.g. pilchards, mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines) per week.
Foods that are good for your heart

Salt and Your Diet

Sodium, contained in salt, is an essential part of a balanced diet. However, eating too much sodium over time can increase your risk of high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. For a healthy heart, it’s important not to eat too much salt as it can lead to water retention, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. 
We can all reduce salt intake by: 
  • Using little or no salt when cooking, for flavour use herbs and spices.
  • Avoid adding salt after cooking.
  • Reduce intake of salted snacks, takeaway meals, and ready meals.
  • Check food labels, that will state the amount of salt, sugar and fat in a product. You can use the table below as a reference. 
HIGH Over 22.5 Over 17.5 Over 5 Over 1.5
MED 5 and 22.5 3 and 17.5 1.5 and 5 0.3 and 1.5
LOW 5 and Below 3 and Below 1.5 and Below
0.3 and Below

Look after your Heart Health 

According to the Irish Heart Foundation heart disease is one of Ireland’s biggest killers, approximately 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular illnesses. Every day, hundreds of Irish people are diagnosed with heart disease. Every hour someone in Ireland suffers from a stroke. It's easy to make more simple lifestyle changes to ensure your heart is as healthy as possible!
check your blood pressure

Keep Your Blood Pressure in Check  

High blood pressure (or hypertension) usually has no symptoms. However, if it’s not treated or kept under control, it is one of the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk of heart attack or stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and poor circulation in your legs. However, these problems can be avoided if your blood pressure is controlled. It's recommended that you get your blood pressure checked regularly and if it is high, ask your doctor how best to bring it down.  Tips to Improve and Control Your Blood Pressure from the Irish Heart Foundation
  • Aim for a healthy weight: Keep your weight at a level that is right for your height and build. If you are overweight, even losing 10% of excess weight can help lower your blood pressure.
  • Eat a healthy diet: To make sure that your blood pressure stays at a healthy level, cut down – or cut out – adding salt to your food, eat less processed foods and make small healthy changes to your diet.
  • Cut down on alcohol: Drinking a lot of alcohol can increase your blood pressure and may damage the liver and heart. Small amounts of alcohol may provide some protection against heart disease, but there is not enough evidence to recommend including alcohol as part of a heart healthy diet. Keep alcohol consumption within the recommended standard limits. 

Stub Out the Cigarettes

Smoking and high blood pressure are two serious factors that can cause a heart attack or stroke. You can greatly reduce this risk by stopping smoking and there are many organisations, such as that can help smokers quit the habit. 
How to quit smoking

Get Active 

Regular exercise improves your emotional and physical well-being. It also reduces your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, as well as many other diseases. Sadly, according to the Irish Heart Foundation over 20% of coronary heart disease and 10% of stroke is due to physical inactivity.  Regardless of age, we all need to do a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, 5 days a week. Moderate exercise means you need to feel some effort in the activity. Your heart rate and breathing needs to increase and you should feel warmer all over, just like you do during a brisk walk.
Coming into the winter months, the darker evenings and colder weather tends to put people off exercising. In order to motivate yourself to get out and get active, choose an activity that you enjoy and makes you feel good. Then set yourself goals that are achievable, for example: a walk during lunch time three times a week or join a running club or local sports team, as the company and support of others will really help you achieve your goals. 
Get heart active
For more tips on heart health check out the Irish Heart Foundations website here