The cardiac diet is frequently prescribed for those who have the common risk factors associated with heart attacks. The cardiac diet is a healthy balanced diet plan which anyone can follow, but also acts as both a preventative and treatment diet for hypertension.
What is hypertension?
When blood pressure is too high it is known as hypertension. Blood pressure refers to the amount of force that is created by blood pushing against the walls of arteries when the heart pumps. Hypertension is therefore often known as high blood pressure.
Despite common misconceptions, hypertension is normally symptomless. Your blood pressure numbers are the best indicator of hypertension and they must not be ignored, regardless of how you feel and whether or not you are experiencing any symptoms.
When your blood pressure is measured, two numbers are given. The higher number refers to your systolic pressure, which is the pressure inside the arteries while the heart is contracting. The bottom number, known as the diastolic pressure, refers to the amount of pressure present in the arteries between heartbeats, while the heart is refilling with blood.
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). The idea is that blood pressure is around 120mmHg over 80mmHg (120/80).
Hypertension is caused by a mix of both genetic and environmental factors. People most at risk of developing hypertension include:
- Elderly people: studies have shown that developing hypertension is more likely as you age 
- People with a family history of hypertension
- People of African or Caribbean origin
- Overweight and obese people
- People with poor dietary habits
- People that smoke regularly
- Sleep-deprived people
When the cardiac diet is advised as part of a treatment plan, it is usually tailored to that patient by a professional dietician. The plan adheres to basic principles which promote good cardiac health, and includes:
- Lowering the amount of animal fat consumed
- Eating margarine that is free in trans fats, as opposed to butter
- Ensure you read food labels and note the quantity of trans fats in that food item; it ought to be zero
- Consume more fruits and vegetables
- Decrease your sodium intake
- Add fish to your diet (unless you are a vegan or vegetarian who does not eat fish)
- Avoid caffeine
- Consume foods which contain plant stanols
A key part of the cardiac diet is reducing the intake of harmful fats. However, eliminating all fat is detrimental to health. Understanding which foods contain healthy fats, and which contain the harmful fats, can save your arteries, and increase both your quality and quantity of life.
- Polyunsaturated fats: these fats are healthy and ought to be included in your diet. Foods high in these fats are grain products and fish
- Monounsaturated fats: these fats reduce artery-clogging cholesterol levels. They are found in avocados, nuts and olive oil
- Saturated fats: these kinds of fats are found in cheese, meat, cheese, palm kernel oil and coconut oil
- Trans fats: such fats are chemically made and used to hydrogenate oils. This enables foods to last longer in terms of their shelf life, but they are not processed easily in the body. Heavily processed foods and fried foods from takeaways contain significant volumes of these fats
Eating more fibre provides a myriad of health benefits. Including high fibre as part of the cardiac diet reduces levels of bad cholesterol in the body, increasing the health of the heart, as well as lowering the risk of heart attacks. More fibre also helps digestion and lowers the incidence of constipation.
Women aged below 50 years ought to eat 25g of fibre each day, while women aged 50 and above ought to eat 21g of fibre on a daily basis. Men aged below 50 years ought to eat 38g of fibre a day, and men over 50 years ought to consume 30g of fibre on a daily basis. Fibre is found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts.
In addition to these cardiac diet plan rules, following some other healthy eating habits can also improve your health:
- You can enhance the effectiveness of this diet’s basic principles by not adding additional salt to foods, cooking with healthier oils (such as olive oil), and controlling your portions to lower calorie intake for weight loss and weight management.
- It is important to get enough exercise to maintain strong heart muscles and to reduce your body’s cholesterol levels. 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week is normally adequate for a healthy heart.
- It is important to avoid stress and build coping skills which help you relax when you cannot avoid stress. Being tense is not healthy for your heart. Relaxation is crucial for maintaining good cardiac health.