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Heart Health

Heart disease can have many different causes. Some of these causes can be changed in order to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. However, some of these causes cannot be changed, for example, getting older, having a family history of heart disease and your ethnic background.

What can I do?

When you are living with HIV, it is particularly important to look after your heart. This is because studies have found that heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes, are more common in people living with HI. There are simple changes you can make to both your diet and lifestyle to take positive steps towards improving your heart health.

Changes you can make to your diet to reduce your risk of heart disease

When making changes to your diet, try making small adjustments over time, rather than setting yourself unrealistic goals. Changes can take time to achieve so don’t be too hard on yourself at first.

Reduce your saturated fat intake

The average man should have no more than 30g saturated fat a day. The average woman should have no more than 20g saturated fat a day. It is important to cut down on the amount of fat in the diet and aim to swap bad fats (saturates) for good (unsaturated fat).  Lowering your saturated fat intake will reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (a type of heart disease that includes heart attack and angina).

There are many ways to reduce the bad fats in our diet Simple tips include;

  • Avoid adding fat in cooking when possible.  (You may be surprised to learn that many West African meals can be made using only one teaspoon of oil per person.)

  • Cook with rapeseed (most vegetable oils you buy in the supermarket are made with rapeseed oil) sunflower, groundnut (peanut) or olive oil in place of butter, palm oil, ghee or coconut oil. Use spreads made from olive or sunflower oil on your toast and sandwiches in place of butter.

However, if you are losing weight unintentionally your dietitian may recommend that you increase the amount of fat in your diet to help build your body up. This is because fats are a rich source of energy. If this is the case, speak with your dietitian before trying to cut down on bad fat in your diet

Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day

Studies suggest that people who eat a diet rich in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables may reduce their risk of heart disease. Aim to eat a rainbow ofcoloursand at least five portions of fruits and vegetables per day. Fruits and vegetables are also low in calories and a great snack to eat between meals.  To increase your daily intake make sure you always serve at least two vegetables with a main meal, add chopped fruits to your morning bowl of cereal and serve a crunchy side salad with lunch.

Include at least one portion of oily fish per week

To achieve a balanced diet, we all need to eat some fat but it must be the right type of fat and in the right quantity.  Men should aim to have four portions of oily fish a week, and women of child bearing age should aim for two. This could be sardines on toast; grilled fresh fish for example, mackerel, salmon, sardines or kippers with grilled tomatoes and salad. Eating oily fish can help to reduce the risk of heart disease due to a type of good fat called omega 3.  For those that don’t like fish, discuss with your HIV dietitian the possibility of taking a fish oil supplement.

Limit salt intake to one teaspoon per day

Having too much salt is linked with high blood pressure which increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease.  Watch out for hidden salt in pre-packaged foods such as pies, pastries, ready meals and crisps. Try to reduce or avoid adding salt in cooking and try to add flavour to your foods in other ways such as, using herbs, spices, garlic or lemon juice. For adults, the recommended intake for salt is only 6g per day, the equivalent of approximately 1 teaspoon.

Try to include more of the following:

  • Wholegrain foods such as cereals, wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice.

  • Soya can lower blood cholesterol and is low in bad fats (saturates).  Research has suggested that including 25g of soya in the diet per day is good for heart health.  Try products such as soya milk, yogurt or tofu.

  • Boost your fibre intake by including pulses in your diet.  This can lower blood cholesterol.  Why not try adding a can of chick peas or lentils to soups and stews or add a can of beans to your rice as an accompaniment to you main meal?

Changes you can make to your lifestyle to reduce your risk of heart disease

Get active

The government recommends we exercise for 30 minutes at least 5 days per week.  This could include adopting simple practices such as walking to the shops, taking the dog for a walk, hopping off the bus one stop earlier and using the stairs rather than the escalator or lift when possible.

Maintain a healthy weight

Your doctor or HIV dietitian can provide information about what is a healthy weight for you.  The NHS provides a tool to estimate whether you are a healthy size using your weight and height.

Limit your alcohol intake

Try to have some alcohol free days every week and avoid binge drinking. Limit your alcohol intake to no more than two-three units per day if you are a woman and no more than three-four units if you are a man. If you are concerned about your heart health ask your doctor for a cardiovascular risk assessment.

Stop smoking