Your diet provides the energy and raw materials your body needs to function. However, different foods have varying effects on your health and heart function. Some foods can negatively impact your cardiovascular system and increase your risk for disease. Yet, your diet gives you some flexibility in controlling your health that you can use to your advantage.
Your sodium intake may play a major role in affecting your heart rate and blood pressure. When you consume salty foods, your body retains water to dilute the sodium content in your blood to safe levels. The result is greater blood volume. With more blood circulating throughout your body, your heart must work harder, which is reflected in its function. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that you only need between 180 and 500 mg of sodium a day. Yet, the average American consumes over 3,400 mg of sodium daily. The primary sources are prepared and processed foods.
The health of your blood vessels will also affect heart rate. A diet high in saturated and trans fats will elevate your LDL or bad cholesterol, two effects that contribute to changes in cardiac activity. A 2002 study by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York found that LDL constricts blood vessels. Diets high in saturated fats increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Plaque forming on the inner linings of blood vessels will further constrict them. The narrowed openings mean that the heart must work harder to maintain blood flow.
Unhealthy eating habits can contribute to obesity. Overweight and obesity rates have spiked in the United States since the 1980s. The CDC estimates that over two-thirds of American adults are overweight. More sobering, the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010" reports that obesity rates for children aged 6 to 11 years have quadrupled from 4 percent in the early 1970s to 20 percent in 2007 to 2008. Overweight increases the workload for your heart, thereby affecting your heart rate. More mass takes more energy to move. Therefore, how much you eat is as important for cardiovascular health as what you eat.
Some foods can improve heart function. Healthy fats such as olive oil and other polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can lower your cholesterol and help prevent plaque formation in the arteries, explains the American Heart Association. With improved blood flow, you will lighten the load on your heart for improved heart rate. Other foods that can improve your cholesterol include whole grains. A 2010 study by Pennsylvania State University found that soluble fiber sources such as oats and barley provided the greatest benefits. With smart dietary choices, you can improve your cardiovascular health.
- "Principles of Anatomy and Physiology"; G. Tortora et al.; 2005
- CDC; Americans Consume Too Much Sodium (Salt); February 24, 2011
- "Journal of Human Hypertension"; Effects of LDL Cholesterol on Vascular Function; C Rosendorff; March 2002
- CDC: Obesity and Overweight
- USDA and U.S. Department of Health and HUman Services; Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 - Balancing Calories to Manage Weight; January 2011
- "Current Atherosclerosis Reports"; Effects of Whole Grains on Coronary Heart Disease Risk; K. Harris and P. Kris-Etherton; November 2010
- American Heart Association: Fat