THE BLOG
19/05/2014 10:58 BST | Updated 18/07/2014 06:59 BST

Running a Race and Worried About Your Heart? Foods to Keep Your Heart-Healthy

With the London marathon taking over town last month, supermarkets must have surely seen a sharp rise in the sale of oats. Porridge is well known as being the runners' breakfast of choice - including for one of the top runners of all time Paula Radcliffe. Oats are packed full of energy-providing carbohydrates which, once ingested, are released slowly into the bloodstream. Oats are also known to have a low GI (glycaemic index) which means they can sustain energy levels over a longer period as opposed to high GI foods like sugary cereals which cause a blood sugar spike followed by a crash, the last thing you want before an endurance event.

However, the benefits of oats are not just confined to sporting performance - they are particularly effective for helping to lower levels of cholesterol in the blood which is better for your heart. So much so, in fact, that oat products are able to make approved health claims with regard to cholesterol within the US and EU. It all comes down to their beta-glucan content. Beta-glucan is a soluble dietary fibre that is found in oats. This fibre is highly effective at lowering cholesterol in combination with a healthy low fat diet. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease.

It is worth noting that men are more at risk of developing heart disease than women. This is largely to do with the balance of hormones they have in the body. The risk also increases with age, and really shoots up once you hit mid 40s. It is also compounded further if anyone in the family has heart problems.

Most of us know that keeping one's heart healthy means avoiding excessive amounts of saturated fat, salt and alcohol. The 'M' word applies here - moderation! But let's focus on the positive, in other words - what are foods that can actually benefit the heart upon digestion?

Well, oats, oily fish and wholegrains are three major foods that can help your heart race to health, long after the marathon has ended. See more about why & how you can incorporate these foods into your heart-healthy diet, below:

- Oats: What you might not know is that oats contain a type of fibre called beta-glucan which has a powerful cholesterol lowering effect. Importantly, it can lower the more harmful type of cholesterol known as LDL which can be higher in men. An optimal intake is considered to be 3g or more of oat beta glucan per day and that this can be achieved through eating 2-4 portions of oat based products e.g. breakfast cereals, breads and crackers every day. If you find this too much, consider an oat supplement high in beta-glucans that you can sprinkle on top of your recipes.

- Oily Fish: Aim to eat between 1-4 portions of oily fish each week. Oily fish contains long chain omega 3 fatty acids that help maintain your normal heart function. .Examples of oily fish are salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel and fresh tuna.

- Wholegrains: Eat wholegrain and high-fibre products when possible such as wholegrain bread, crackers/crispbread and breakfast cereals, brown rice and brown pasta. Also include pulses such as lentils, chickpeas and beans when you can. Research has shown that people who consume more wholegrains have lower rates of heart disease.

Three Heart- Healthy Recipes To Chow Down On, After A Long Endurance Run!

1) Try this nutrient packed smoothie after a tough session in the gym. It can help replenish essential vitamins, strengthen muscles as well as looking after your heart.

1 pot of plain strained or Greek yogurt

100ml semi-skimmed milk

1 banana, roughly chopped

½ mango, roughly chopped

2 tbsp of fine oatmeal

Place all the ingredients into a blender or smoothie maker and whizz for 2-3 minutes until everything is completely blended.

2) Enjoy oats for lunch, perfect with a celebratory after-race pint!

Cheese ploughmans with walnuts and oat cakes

6 oat cakes

Large handful of walnut halves

Mobile phone size chunk of Cheddar

1 apple

2 sticks of celery

Dollop of pickle

3) Satisfy a craving for red meat while keeping your heart healthy with this delicious supper dish.

Spicy meatballs (serves 4)

750g lean ground beef or lean ground turkey

75g cup quick oats

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 onion, finely chopped

100ml milk

Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper

Generous dash of Worcestershire sauce

50g brown sugar

50ml apple cider vinegar

1 tsp mustard

2 tbsp barbeque sauce

Combine the meat, oats, onion, eggs and milk, season and mix well. Form into 12 evenly sized balls. Place in a casserole dish. Combine the sugar with the vinegar, mustard and sauce and blend thoroughly. Heat in a small saucepan until combined and sugar is dissolved and pour over the meatballs. Bake at 180C/Gas 5 for about 30 minutes. Serve with Basmati rice.