Healthy eating

The main guidelines for maintaining a healthy diet are:

  • Eat a regular balanced diet
  • Try to have five portions of fruit and vegetables daily
  • Increase fibre - have more wholemeal and wholegrain foods
  • Eat less fat and fatty foods
  • Cut down on salt
  • Avoid added sugar and limit sugary foods
  • Keep alcohol within recommended limits (21 units a week for men, 14 units a week for women)
  • Try to take some form of exercise every day.

There is growing evidence that following a 'cardioprotective diet' - that is, eating foods that protect the heart - can reduce the risk of heart disease. A cardioprotective diet means people eat:

  • More Omega-3 - a type of oil found mainly in oily fish
  • More fruit and vegetables
  • Less total fats, especially saturated fats. The type of fat eaten is also important - more monounsaturated fats can help to reduce total cholesterol.

Omega-3 oils

These are polyunsaturated fats, which cannot be made in the body so must be provided in the diet.

The richest sources are fish oils such as those found in salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines and kippers. They can be tinned (in brine or tomato sauce), frozen, vacuum packed, fresh or smoked.

Other sources include seed oils (linseed, rapeseed and soya oils) and nuts (walnuts and peanuts).

Omega-3 oils have been found to reduce triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood). They can help to thin out the blood and so can protect against heart attacks and strokes. They also protect against cardiac arrhythmias (irregular rhythms), which can cause sudden death.

Fish oil supplements are not recommended for people with diabetes as they may increase LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.

Aim to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring, kippers, trout or mackerel). One portion equals 100g or 3-4oz in weight.

Fruit and vegetables

The recommended amount of fruit and vegetables is five servings daily. One serving equals:

  • One medium portion of fruit
  • Two tablespoons of salad or vegetables
  • Two tablespoons of stewed or tinned fruit
  • One small glass of fruit juice
  • One small bowl of vegetable soup.


Fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E), which mop up dangerous free radicals, which are known to damage artery walls.

Fruit and vegetables that contain soluble fibre will also help to reduce cholesterol levels.

Remember all fruit and fruit juice contain natural sugars so it best to spread them over the day.


Reducing fat in the diet will reduce total calorie intake and help with weight loss. Fats are divided into two main types - saturated and unsaturated.

Try to reduce saturated fats and replace them with unsaturated fats.

Saturated fats increase blood cholesterol. You can identify them as those fats that tend to be solid at room temperature. They are found in butter, hard margarines, lard, cheese, cream, meat fat and confectionery.

Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats have a favourable effect on blood cholesterol levels.

Monounsaturated fat can increase HDL cholesterol levels (a good cholesterol). Good sources of monounsaturated fat include:

  • Olive oil or rapeseed oil (Kelkin, Dunnes Stores or Tescos own brand of vegetable cooking oil)
  • Spreads made from these oils such as Golden Olive, Avonmore Light and Utterly Butterly.

Physical activity can also lead to an increase in HDL levels.

Polyunsaturated fat can help to reduce LDL cholesterol levels (a bad cholesterol). Good sources of polyunsaturated fat include:

  • Sunflower, corn or soya bean oil
  • Spreads made from these oils such as Flora and Low Low
  • Oily fish also contain polyunsaturates, omega-3.

Try to use a source of monounsaturated fat in cooking or as a spread and remember to include omega-3 oil from oily fish. This is to ensure the best action on LDL and HDL cholesterol levels.

Remember that all fats are high in calories and should only be taken in small quantities. Excess amounts of fat can lead to weight gain. And remember: a 'cardioprotective diet' reduces the risk of heart disease.


Reviewed: September 20, 2006