6 May 2024

Reduce Heart Disease Risk with a Low GI Diet

Heart disease rates have fallen in the past 10 years; however, it is still the leading cause of death in Australia. The good news is that many incidences of heart disease are preventable via a healthy lifestyle.

Lifestyle changes, including a healthy low GI diet and getting more active, can significantly reduce the risk factors of heart disease and improve heart health by:

  • Improving the elasticity of blood vessel walls and blood flow by reducing post-meal blood glucose levels
  • Improving blood cholesterol levels, independent of the benefits of weight loss
  • Reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, a chronic disease affecting blood vessels
  • Aiding abdominal fat reduction

A multinational study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that eating foods with a high glycemic index is linked to a higher rate of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. The study followed 137,851 people from five continents over an average of nine years. It found those with the highest-glycemic-index diet were more likely to have a major cardiovascular event or die from cardiovascular-related causes. Furthermore, the results showed that eating poor quality carbohydrates is ‘likely to be more adverse than the consumption of most fats in the diet’.

The National Heart Foundation states that heart health is not just about eating one specific food. It is about regularly eating a wide variety of healthy foods and the nutrients they provide, over time. Below are some ‘Heart Smart’ tips based on the National Heart foundation recommendations:

7 Tips for heart smart eating

  1. Increase colour – fresh vegetables and fruit not only supply essential vitamins and minerals they also contain important antioxidants and dietary fibre to prevent heart disease. It is recommended we aim for five serves of vegetables/salad and two serves of fruit each day. At main meals, at least half our plate should include vegetables and salad.
  2. Increase plant fibre – choosing foods that are high in soluble fibre can lower cholesterol levels. High soluble fibre foods are also low GI, which is a winning combination because low GI foods are associated with reducing the risk of heart disease. High soluble fibre, low GI foods include oats, barley, fruit, vegetables, seeds, and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, baked beans and red kidney beans.
  3. Increase plant protein – Include more plant protein meals, which are high in soluble fibre, low GI, low in saturated fat and budget friendly! Plant protein includes legumes i.e., chickpeas, beans, lentils, and tofu. If you are new to plant protein, start with including 1-2 vegetarian meals a week based on legumes. Think lentil curry or Mexican burritos using red kidney beans! Reducing the amount of animal protein in a meal and adding some legumes is also a way of boosting your plant protein intake. Legumes are a great addition to soups, casseroles, and salads.
  4. Careful with red meat – being heart smart does not mean giving up meat if it is already part of your diet. Red meat is an important source of muscle building protein and nutrients such as iron and vitamin B12. It just means including unprocessed, lean cuts including red meat, pork, lamb, and veal and in smaller amounts i.e., no more than 1-3 serves a week (350g a week). This is because eating too much red meat contributes to unhealthy saturated fat in our diet, which is linked to high cholesterol levels, increasing our risk of heart disease and stroke. Including skinless poultry (chicken and turkey) does not increase or decrease your risk of heart disease. Eggs are also an excellent source of protein and can be included freely in the diet. However, if you have Type 2 Diabetes, limit it to seven eggs a week. Research shows a link between eating more than seven eggs a week and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease in people with type 2 diabetes.
  5. Increase ‘good fats’ – Forget no fat and think quality fats. Just like carbohydrates, there are better quality fats that are essential to the diet that can aid healthier blood cholesterol levels and lower other cardiovascular risk factors. Healthy fats include olives, nuts, seeds, and avocado. Also cooking oils made from plants or seeds, including olive, canola, sunflower, soybean, peanut, sesame, and safflower.
  6. Increase omegas – Our bodies cannot produce omega 3 fats from the body, so it needs to come from the diet which why they are classed as ‘essential fats’. Omega 3 fats are found in fish, seafood and plant sources including walnuts, linseed (flaxseed), chia seeds, canola, and soy. Aim for 2-3 fish meals a week. According to research, fish is the best dietary source of omega-3s and associated with lower rates of heart disease (heart failure and sudden cardiac death) and stroke.
  7. Include dairy – We now know that including dairy in the diet will not increase or decrease your risk of heart disease. This means that for healthy Australians, consuming unflavoured milk, cheese, and yoghurt (including full fat varieties), does not significantly increase you risk of heart disease. Milk and yoghurt are important sources of protein, calcium and low GI. For people with heart disease, high cholesterol, or Type 2 Diabetes, it is recommended to limit saturated fat intake low by choosing low-fat dairy milk, yoghurt, and cheese.


If you want to try incorporating more low GI foods into your diet, we have collated a range of Heart-Friendly recipes to help you start your journey to a healthier heart.


We also have a 7 day low GI Heart Smart eating plan packed with delicious recipes which you can access for free.




Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality Report.




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