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Smart choices at the heart of family health

Oct 15 2013

University of Newcastle researchers are helping families with a history of cardiovascular disease to become ‘heart smart’ in a bid to lower their risk factors for heart attack or stroke.

Dietitian, Professor Clare Collins, and PhD candidate Tracy Schumacher*, are leading the Love your Food, Love Your Heart, Love Your Family study which is testing ways to help families follow a ‘heart healthy’ diet that is based on the best available research.

Cardiovascular disease affects one in six Australians equating to two out of three families. In addition, heart, stroke or blood vessel disease claims an Australian life every 12 minutes.

“By focusing on families where there is a history of heart disease or stroke, we are hoping to improve heart health in all family members. We are also assessing the effects of a family-based nutrition intervention on reducing risk factors that are affected by dietary intake, such as blood cholesterol,” Ms Schumacher said.

Families in the study are encouraged to support each other as they try to incorporate different foods in their eating patterns. Heart healthy foods are those high in soluble fibre, such as oats, legumes, fruits and vegetables, plant sterol food products like Logicol or ProActiv margarines and Heart Active milk, nuts, soy products and fish. Plant-based foods high in protein such as kidney beans, chickpeas and soy milks and soy yoghurts are also heart friendly.

“These types of heart healthy foods can help to lower cardiovascular disease risk and improve health. Unfortunately for some families, it is only when a parent or grandparent experiences a heart attack or stroke that a family history of cardiovascular disease is revealed. The good news is that research has given us a lot of new information about heart healthy eating patterns that improve heart health and lower the risk of having a second cardiovascular disease event. When the heart healthy eating patterns are adopted by other family members can prevent heart disease or stroke in them.”

The study is nearing the end of the first phase and recruitment for the second phase will start soon. Phase two will focus on helping individuals with raised levels of serum cholesterol, who wish to avoid using medication and prefer to modify their lifestyle in order to reduce their cardiovascular risk. More information on the study can be found by emailing the researchers at FoodHeartFamily@newcastle.edu.au or calling (02) 4921 6259.