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Diet and nutrition

The link between your diet and health is close and complex. While it may not be the major - or the only - factor to increase your risk of certain diseases, it is one of them.

Coronary artery disease tops the list of conditions in which there’s a clear direct relationship between ill health and what you eat. This is closely followed by related conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. The kind of food you eat is also linked to an increased risk of developing some forms of cancer and other conditions.

It is well established that many Australians eat too much fat, salt and processed foods and have insufficient fruit and vegetables in their diet, putting them at higher risk of ill health. There are strong links between consumption of excess saturated fat with high levels of LDL cholesterol which can lead to atherosclerosis. Eating too much salt – which over half of Australians do – is linked with high blood pressure.

The good news is that there is plenty of support and information about exactly what should be included in a healthy diet and, in particular, about diet and nutrition for you to effectively reduce your risk of developing coronary artery disease.

Broadly speaking, a diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, fish, lean meat, low-fat dairy products and certain oils and which is low in saturated and trans fats, salt and highly-processed foods is one of your best tickets to good heart health.

If you already have coronary artery disease, following this kind of diet can improve your chances of managing the condition and reduce your risk of future problems.

But it’s not just the individual components of a diet that count, it’s the way you prepare the food and eat it – for example, eating in front of the TV is not a healthy habit. That’s why experts now talk about dietary patterns – for example, the Mediterranean dietary pattern is well-known for its association with a lower-than-average risk of heart disease and bowel cancer.

A healthy diet

Adjusting your diet to decrease the amount of saturated fat and salt you eat and to increase fibre will all help to keep coronary artery disease at bay. This is because it can lower cholesterol and help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Below are some tips to help you maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet:

  • Choose lean cuts of meat and poultry, trimming all fat and skin. Keep your servings small – about the size of the palm of your hand – and include at least three servings of oily fish per week, such as salmon. These kind of fish contain omega-3 fats which can help lower your cholesterol levels.
  • Choose low-fat dairy foods such as skim milk and low-fat cheese, yoghurt and ice-cream. Don’t cut them out altogether as it’s important to get your calcium intake.
  • Use polyunsaturated or mono-unsaturated margarines and oils instead of butter and solid cooking fats
  • Eat unsaturated fats in moderation as they’ll help lower cholesterol levels– foods containing unsaturated fats include unsalted nuts, avocados and seeds
  • Use low-fat cooking methods like grilling, steaming, braising or microwaving to decrease the amount of oil you use
  • Avoid commercial cakes, biscuits, pies, pastries, chocolate and fried foods altogether as they’re often high in calories, saturated fat, sugar and salt
  • Eat no more than two to three eggs per week as the yolks are high in saturated fat – however, the whites are cholesterol free
  • Decrease your salt intake by cutting back on salt when cooking, and try to choose ‘no added salt’ or ‘reduced salt’ products
  • Take-away food such as pizzas, hamburgers and chips usually have a high calorie, salt and fat content – so eat them rarely or opt for home-made versions where you can control the salt and fat content
  • Use processed foods like delicatessen meats, sauces, chutneys and relishes and salted snack foods like chips and nuts sparingly – they’re almost always high in calories, fat and salt
  • Choose wholemeal or wholegrain when it comes to bread, pasta and breakfast cereals and choose brown rice over white rice
  • Eat plenty of vegetables for their fibre – aim for five serves a day
  • Add more legumes such as beans and lentils to your diet
  • Eat more fish and lean white meat instead of red meat.

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published 31 October 2011

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