9 in 10 Canadians over the age of 20 have at least one risk factor for heart disease, while 4 in 10 have three or more, making it the second leading cause of death in Canada today. Risk factors commonly associated with heart disease include lack of physical activity, smoking, excessive drug and alcohol use, stress, obesity, and having an unhealthy diet. When it comes to heart disease, prevention is key. Many of the aforementioned risk factors are completely avoidable, says Dr. Ali Ghahary. All you have to be willing to do is make the necessary lifestyle changes.

Throughout his career as a family physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary has always put a strong emphasis on the importance of healthy eating. Regardless of your age, gender, or what type of health condition you’re dealing with, Dr. Ghahary says patients should always strive to eat as healthy as possible – because the healthier you eat, the better you’ll feel. With heart disease, this is no different. In fact, diet is one of the major components when it comes to reducing the risk of heart disease and improving your overall heart health. In order to protect yourself against heart disease, Dr. Ali Ghahary says patients should adopt a diet that is designed to curb their LDL levels – also known as low-density lipoprotein. LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol. When these levels are high, a plaque-like substance can begin to form on the walls of your arteries, which can block the flow of blood and increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. By maintaining a heart healthy diet, the chances of having a heart attack or stroke can decrease exponentially.

Below, Dr. Ali Ghahary has put together a few different strategies that will help you eat better and improve your heart health.

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Your parents probably often told you this as a child whenever you were at the dinner table; they were right then, and it goes without saying now that fruits and vegetables continue to remain an important part of our diets when it comes to bettering our health. Fruits and vegetables are not only rich in fibre, antioxidants, and other important nutrients, but they also taste great, can be incorporated into meals (or smoothies) hundreds of different ways, and also make for great snacks.

Include More Protein
Protein is something we should all include more of in our diets. It’s not just good for the heart, but it can also help improve our bones, muscles, cartilage and skin, helps build and repair tissues, as well as creates hormones, enzymes, and other important chemicals required by the body to fully and properly function. Things like seafood, poultry, eggs and beans are all excellent sources of protein.

Reduce Cholesterol
High cholesterol can also lead to heart problems, including coronary artery disease, so it’s just as important to make sure you are keeping your cholesterol at a healthy level. Some examples of foods that are high in cholesterol include fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, coconut and palm oils, and butter. These should be avoided.

Avoid Unhealthy Fats
Things like saturated fats and trans fats should be avoided as much as possible. In fact, Health Canada’s proposed ban on trans fats is even set to go into effect this September. These types of fats are often found in baked foods or processed foods (such as fast food and other fried foods), and are also high in calories. When cooking, try to use fats that are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, such as olive oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil and corn oil.

For more information on healthy eating, click here or follow Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter at @DrAliGhahary. You can also find much more information on heart disease via The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada by visiting their website at heartandstroke.ca.