Issues and Challenges

Protect your Heart by Eating Right

Proper diet is vital for avoiding heart diseases. High risk of coronary heart disease occurs because of obesity, high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes and a diet high in saturated fats. A low saturated fat, high-fiber, high plant food diet can significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

In order to live well with a healthier heart, one needs to take care what they are putting in their bodies. This can help in avoiding all those trips to the hospital and the stress caused by apprehensions regarding one’s health. Women who have had menopause lose their natural protection against heart disease; they need to be extra vigilant to protect themselves. 

Here are some things that we all need to adopt if we want to have a happier, healthier heart. 

Smaller Servings
Overeating will make you gain weight, but that's not all. Studies show that people suffer from heart attacks after taking big meals. Watch out for restaurant portion sizes as well as the portion you consume at home. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the amount of food in an average restaurant meal today is equivalent to four restaurant meals from 1950s. Studies also show that bigger the portion you're served, the more you'll eat. So, what’s the solution? Get in the habit of eating only half of what's on your plate and take the rest home.

Increase Whole Grains and Fiber
What's so special about whole grains? They help control your blood sugar, which lowers your chances of getting diabetes. That's important because diabetes increases the risk of heart disease.
People who eat a lot of whole grains tend to weigh less. Go for whole wheat breads, brown rice, oatmeal, barley, and rye. Another benefit is that whole grains help to lower Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. That's the bad kind that contributes to heart attacks and strokes. Remember to fill up on fiber. It absorbs fat while you digest your food and cuts down swelling in your arteries! It also helps you control your weight because it makes you feel full. Besides whole grains, other good sources include fruits, veggies, nuts, and beans especially red beans, black and white chickpeas.

Less Salt
You probably need to cut back on salt. Aim for no more than half a teaspoon a day. If you already have high blood pressure, you should avoid it completely. Most Pakistanis have the misconception that sea salt is a low sodium alternative to regular table salt. It has the same amount of sodium. Any type of salt raises your blood pressure. Approximately 75% of the salt you consume is from processed foods like soups and frozen meals. Always check the label to find out how much sodium is in it.

Choose Meats Wisely
Red meat is usually high in saturated fat, which may be bad for your heart. That doesn't mean you have to banish it from your diet. Just be savvy, look for lean cuts and always trim the fat or choose chicken breast instead. Add more fish to your diet. You probably know it's good for you, but not all fish is equal. Deep-fried cod doesn't count, grilled or baked fish is a healthier option. Salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Deli meats are often packed with salts, nitrates, and preservatives that can be bad for your heart. Whole chicken breasts are better!

Limit Caffeine
Many studies suggest that there is a direct link between caffeine, coffee drinking and coronary heart disease. So if you want a robust heart cut down on tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks; they might make you feel more energetic but even moderate drinkers’ risk of heart disease goes up by 60%.

Choose Which Fat to Eat
Avoid artificial trans fats as much as possible. Check ingredient lists for “partially hydrogenated” oils. When using added fats for cooking or baking, choose oils that are high in monounsaturated fat (for example, olive and peanut oil) or polyunsaturated fat (for example soybean, corn, and sunflower oil).

Add seeds
Flaxseeds contain Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and phytoestrogen to boost heart health. Take them in ground or milled form to reap the greatest benefit. Chia seeds also provide Omega 3, fiber and protein and can be eaten whole. Seeds also contain healthy monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and many important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. When consumed as part of daily diet, seeds can help reduce blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Handful of Dry Fruits 
Dry fruits are rich in potassium, iron, folate, calcium and magnesium, which boost your immunity, keeping you healthy and free from diseases.

Get Your Legumes
Eating ¾ cup of cooked lentils, peas or beans every day reduces ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol by 5%, according to a meta-analysis in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Many studies have proven that beans and legumes, such as chickpeas can also help reduce weight. Lentils improve bowel function and help with digestion and prevent spikes in blood sugar.

Low Calorie Diet in the Evening 
A recent study found that consuming all of your daily calories before 3 PM can lower blood pressure by 10 to 11 mmHg in five weeks. “Your body is simply better able to rid itself of excessive sodium when you eat earlier in the day,” says Courtney Peterson, Assistant Professor of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama.

Eat More Vegetables and Fruits
According to a meta-analysis published in International Journal of Epidemiology, consumption of vegies and fruits can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 13% for each additional 1-cup serving added to your diet.

Swapping Carbs
You probably know that refined carbs, like sugar, white bread and candy, are not good for your health. But are they worse than saturated fats when it comes to heart health? Turns out, the short answer is yes! Studies have found that replacing saturated fats with foods with a high glycemic index can actually increase the risk of heart diseases. 

Two Daily Servings of Low-Fat Dairy 
People whose daily diets include at least two servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese appear to have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, or death than people who do not consume dairy products.

If you’re overweight, even a small amount of weight loss can improve your blood pressure. Eating a variety of healthy foods from all food groups is the best way to achieve a balanced diet and excessive intake of any nutrient is not beneficial, whether it is fat or carbs. HH

The write is a clinical dietitian.

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