Healthy heart

Nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr talks about how you can support your heart health naturally.

Video transcript

Hi there. My name is Clarissa Lenherr, registered nutritionist and part of the Stretching the City team, and I'm thrilled to be here today to talk about how to support your heart health naturally.

Now the heart is a vital organ. Most of us know that, and it really does deserve a lot of attention and care. And by making simple dietary changes, we can keep our heart healthy and happy.

Before we explore specific food groups and some lifestyle hacks, I want to talk about a few key nutrients that can be really supportive for our heart health. And the first one is Omega-3.


Omega-3s are a kind of essential fatty acid that's involved in everything from cognitive health, skin inflammation, mood, and cardiovascular health. A review in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology actually found that there was a correlation between Omega-3 fatty acids and reduced triglyceride levels, which are fats in our blood, decreasing blood pressure and improving arterial function.

We know that Omega-3s have been proven to be good for our cardiovascular health. So how can we get enough of them? Well, unfortunately, our bodies do not make Omega-3s themselves. So, we are solely and exclusively reliant on dietary intake.

Now the best way is to get in these Omega-3 fats are through consuming oily fish. And those fish have a great acronym called SMASH, which is salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. Trout can also give you a bit of Omega-3s as well.

So, you'd want to be consuming those oily fish say two, three times a week. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, stick to just two because of mercury levels found in small fish. If you don't want to eat fish because they're quite fishy or because you don't eat fish, chia seeds, walnuts and flax seeds are a source. However, plant-based sources of Omega-3s are quite inefficiently converted in the body into the active forms that we utilise. You do need to consume quite a lot more. And so have seven walnuts a day or a tablespoon of chia seeds or flax seeds. You can sprinkle those onto yogurt into your salads, use them in baking.

You can consider Omega-3 supplementations, so things like cod liver oil, fish oils, et cetera. However, this is a really individualised area when it comes to supplementation, especially for people who are on medication, health concerns, pregnancy or breastfeeding. So always check in with your GP or work with a nutritionist before taking supplements.


Potassium actually works with sodium to regulate our blood pressure. It's a really important one to make sure we're getting adequate amounts of potassium to work in that synergistic relationship with sodium to make sure we can regulate our blood pressure. Now the great news is that potassium is found in lots of wonderful, delicious foods. Some of the best foods are going to be things like bananas, avocados, dark leafy greens, things like kale and rocket and spinach, sweet potatoes and also legumes. Especially beans can be a great source of potassium. Make sure you're getting those in, especially if you're doing a lot of exercise we can have a higher requirement for potassium, lots of sweating, things like that. So, try to cover your bases with a few of those delicious foods.


Now I call magnesium the magic mineral because it's involved in over 300 processes in the body. So, it's pretty important.

With magnesium, again, like potassium, is actually available in lots of plant-based foods. Things like nuts and seeds, beans, chickpeas, lentils, dark leafy greens, avocados. You'd be getting potassium in your avocados, but also your magnesium and also dark chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the more magnesium. Obviously being mindful of sugar intake with consuming chocolate and sweets and things like that, but a few squares of dark chocolate can give you a nice amount of magnesium.


The recommended daily intake of fibre per day in the UK is 30 grams. And last year they revealed that the average person in the UK consumes between 18 to 19.5 grams of fibre. We can all be thinking about increasing our fibre.

Now there are certain different kinds of fibre, but soluble fibre, which is the one that dissolves in water, has actually been shown to lower the levels of LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is often referred to as our bad cholesterol that has been correlated with increased risks of cardiovascular concerns. It does this by binding to cholesterol that we can get from our diet through in the digestive tract so it can, prevent the absorption of it into the bloodstream.

How can we get enough of this fibre? Well, in an ideal world, if you can try to get half of your plate as fruits and vegetables, you are going to be really, really winning when it comes to fibre, plus, you're going to get vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all, especially antioxidants, correlated to better heart health. If you can't get half your plate as colourful fruits and vegetables, there are other ways to get fibre from spotlighting high fibre foods. And this would be things like nuts and seeds that are particularly good. Get those chia seeds and those flax seeds and those walnuts, which are always going to give you those Omega-3s.

But also, when you're having fruits and vegetables, make sure you have the skin on and wash them really well. Whole grains, things like brown rice over white rice, quinoa, oats, wholemeal breads, things like that. Those are going to really, really help you get your fibre intake up.


We do want to be mindful when it comes to fat intake. And I don't mean just general fats, I mean about spotlighting saturated fats and trans fats.

A diet high in trans fats, has been shown to affect LDL cholesterol levels, which are our bad cholesterol levels, but also can impact HDL cholesterol, which is our good cholesterol that's protective of the heart. In addition, trans fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Trans fats can be found in partially hydrogenated oil. So, often found in, fried foods, highly processed foods, many commercially baked foods.

So just make sure you're having a little look at the food products that you're buying. Try to avoid highly processed foods.

Luckily in the UK there is a lot of activity now about bringing down trans fats and banning the use of trans fats in our food. So hopefully this shouldn't be too much of an issue for you.

But when it comes to saturated fat, this too has been linked to an increased formation in LDL cholesterol, hat bad cholesterol, which can build up as plaque in the arteries. Now, saturated fat can be found high in certain cuts of meat, in full fat dairy produce, in butter and in some oils, for example, palm oil and coconut oil.

Now, it's not about saying absolutely no desaturated fat, it's about enjoying it in moderation. So having it a little bit here and there but making sure that the basis of your diet and the fat intake of your diet is not solely saturated fat. And instead, maybe making swaps to leaner sources of protein like poultry instead of red meat, low fat options like low fat dairy can sometimes be good. And cooking oils like olive oil over overly using butter and things like that can be very helpful.


Finally, in terms of diet, I want to highlight alcohol. Now, I'm not here saying that you shouldn't have any alcohol at all, but exercise moderation with alcohol because excessive alcohol intake can affect blood pressure levels and can lead to irregular heart rhythms and can weaken your heart muscles as well. So, this can increase a risk of heart failure.

The NHS recommends no more than 40 units of alcohol per week, which is about six pints a beer or seven glasses of wine, or 14 very tiny tequila shots if that's your thing. So really try to make sure that you are below that kind of upper limit of alcohol. You know, maybe go for non-alcoholic alternatives. you can go for mocktails, make sure you're drinking plenty of water and try to not have all of your units in one night because that would be classified as binge drinking.


And finally, I just want to touch on one key lifestyle factor, which a lot of you will have heard of before, but exercise is incredibly important when it comes to cardiovascular health for many other areas of our health.

It's really important in strengthening our heart, but it can also reduce stress, help with our weight management, with higher weight can be correlated with an increased risk of cardiovascular health concerns.

I normally recommend try to get 30 minutes of movement a day. Now that doesn't have to be high intensity pounding the treadmill or anything like that, but just even a walk, yoga can count to that, as well if you want to go to the gym and do strength training, go for a run, go for spinning.

But 30 minutes of movement a day in whatever form that you enjoy can be a nice way to also be a mood booster, a stress reliever, but also help contribute to your cardiovascular health.

Hopefully I've given you one or two things to think about today to incorporate into your day-to-day routine to look after your heart health naturally. And I hope you've enjoyed this session today.