National Nutrition Month, with the 2023 theme of Unlocking the Potential of Food, is an ideal opportunity to learn more about these approaches and adopt more heart-friendly behaviors.
The Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS) Clinical Practice Guidelines recommend three main dietary patterns to reduce the risk of heart disease: the Mediterranean Diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and the Portfolio Diet.
- The Mediterranean Diet it is rich in colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, olive oil and seafood. Research studies have shown that this diet reduces your risk of heart attack or stroke, even if you already have heart disease, and it offers a number of other health benefits. Dietitians of Canada has created a resource that summarizes the details of this dietary approach.
- The DASH Diet focuses on eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, whole grains and nuts, limiting red and processed meats, foods with added sugar and sodium. Originally developed to treat high blood pressure, this diet can also lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C – the unhealthy type of cholesterol) and provide a number of other health benefits. Heart & Stroke has several resources on this approach to eating.
The portfolio diet it was originally developed in Canada to treat high cholesterol. Emphasizes plant proteins (eg, soy and other legumes); nuts; slimy (or “gooey”) fiber sources such as oats, barley, and psyllium; plant sterols; and healthy oils like olive oil, canola oil, and avocado. Many research studies have shown that this diet can lower LDL-C and offer a number of other health benefits. Research shows that even small additions of heart-healthy foods to Portfolio Diet can make a difference; the more you consume of these recommended foods, the greater the reductions in LDL-C and your risk of heart disease. The Canadian Cardiovascular Society has an infographic on following the Portfolio Diet.
A common theme among these three approaches to eating is that they are all considered plant-based, and small changes can make a difference in your overall risk of heart disease. “Plant based” doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be 100% vegan or vegetarian to get its benefits. Plant-based diets can range from completely vegan to diets that include small to moderate amounts of animal products.
Knowledge of healthy eating approaches is critical, but behaviors reveal the power of food. Below are three strategies to use to harness the potential of foods to promote heart health. They show that by combining the power of nutrition and psychology, you can improve your chances of making long-term changes.
You don’t have to do this alone. We recommend getting a referral from your doctor (this helps to get the appointment covered by your insurance) to work with a registered dietitian and/or psychologist (behavioralist) to co-create your own ways to unlock the potential of food.
3 ways to unlock the power of food
1. Master and achieve the 90% target
Choose a goal that you are 90% sure you can succeed at, while creating a plan to achieve bigger, more difficult goals in the future. This approach will help you build confidence in your abilities and give you valuable insight into what works for you and what doesn’t.
Research shows that starting with 90% goals makes it more likely that we will achieve future goals. A 90% goal could be to swap out animal protein for plant protein – like tofu or beans – at lunch on Mondays (Meatless Mondays). Another example: Use a meal delivery service that delivers measured ingredients with plant-based recipes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so you can come up with new ideas on how to incorporate more plants into your meals.
2. Why delete and restrict when you can replace?
Choose a “do it instead” goal or work with a Registered Dietitian to substitute healthier choices for your current foods and beverages. Avoid setting goals that might cause you to focus MORE on the foods you are trying to avoid (e.g. “stop eating sugar”).
Instead, the substitution approach might include things like choosing low-sodium soup or buying pre-cut vegetables with the goal of halving the starch portion in meals. The Food Guide of Canada, Diabetes Canada and Heart & Stroke recommend that half of your plate be vegetables.
3. Set value-based goals
Connect your goal to something that is deeply important to you. While long-term outcomes (like heart disease) may be the impetus for change, research shows that the things that matter to us right now motivate us the most. Choosing personal and meaningful reasons for the change will help with sustained change.
For example, choose to cook a meal that incorporates a vegetable with a close friend or family member so you can share the experience and spend time together. This example may be rooted in the following values: kindness, relational values, cultural values, empathy, courage.
Unlock the power of food
Research shows that the key to changing your diet is to focus on changing your eating habits and eating behaviors one at a time. Support from a nutrition professional, such as a registered dietitian and/or a psychologist, can help you make informed choices and plans tailored to your specific needs, situation, preferences, traditions, skills and abilities.