Heart health is a big issue in Northern Ireland, with 39% of all adult deaths caused by chest, heart or stroke conditions and 11% of the population living with these conditions.

With obesity on the increase, a fruit and vegetable intake lower than anywhere else in the UK and our lack of exercise, these figures are unlikely to get better any time soon.

The good news is that we can turn this around, by making some simple change to our diet and lifestyle, for the good of our heart.

  1. Eat more fat – it is well known that omega 3 rich oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, trout and sardines are great for our cardiovascular system. Aim for 3 x week. Avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil  are good choices too.
  2. Cut the trans fats. Never cook with vegetable oil, as the high temperature causes damage to these delicate oils, creating hydrogenated, or trans fats, which have been linked to high LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduced HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fats are found in baked goods, crisps, chips, fried foods and margarines. The best oil for cooking is coconut oil, which is stable at high temperatures and less prone to damage. Coconut oil has also been shown to increase the protective HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL.
  3. 7 a day. Aim to eat at least 4 portions of vegetables and a couple of pieces of fruit every day and include as many different colours as you can. packed with fibre, magnesium, potassium and folic acid, vegetables and fruit are essential ingredients of any heart health diet.
  4. Oats contain an ingredient called beta glucans, which help balance cholesterol and triglycerides.  So get your oats with porridge or oatcakes every day.
  5. Include 1-2 tablespoonfuls of flaxseeds every day to help reduce cholesterol. Add to porridge, soups, yoghurt or smoothies.
  6. Walnuts and almonds also seems o be protective for heart health, so have a handful as a snack.
  7. Herbs and spices like garlic, turmeric, ginger and rosemary are a great addition your health heart diet and may have therapeutic effects.
  8. Eat a Mediterranean diet – packed with oily fish, olive oil (as dressings and drizzles, not for cooking!), plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses and wholegrains and a little red wine in moderation of course!
  9. Regular exercise improves blood flow, brings more oxygen to cells, helps blood sugar balance and aids stress management, so get moving!
  10. Stress reduction in whatever form is best for you is essential to balance the stresses of daily life. Meditation, tai chi, a walk in the park, reading a book or doing something creative like knitting, painting or crochet can all help you unwind and relax.