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Nutrition for heart health

Here’s how to eat smart in order to protect yourself against heart diseases.

While the sheer volume of heart disease cases can be overwhelming, what one needs to remain cognisant of is that there are ways to prevent it— in fact, scientifically proven methods that drastically reduce one’s chance of developing it. These methods can range from exercise, abstaining from habits like smoking and excess drinking, monitoring related issues like diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and surgical intervention as advised by one’s cardiologist. But, a method that still ranks at the top when it comes to lifestyle changes that prevent heart diseases is following a healthy diet plan. Along with prevention, a 2015 study by the The Journal of Gerontological Nursing focused on the cognitive impairment that is observed in older adults with heart failure, and how nutrition can aid recovery in that area. It states that better nutritional habits ‘are associated with better attention and executive function in individuals with heart failure.’ And, furthermore, ‘specific nutritional interventions, such as eating more leafy green vegetables to increase haemoglobin levels, or reducing consumption of sugary beverages’ could be one route towards aiding cognitive performance in such individuals. A lot of studies tout the Mediterranean diet as a method of primary prevention of cardiovascular disease as it incorporates healthy fats, no processed foods, high vegetable and fruit consumption, and moderate alcohol consumption. In fact, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2018 that associates a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts with a lower risk of a major cardiovascular event occurring over a period of five years

So, what exactly is part of a heart-healthy diet? We break down what food groups you should be including more of, and what to avoid.

Keep it fresh
Filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables is something that’s always preached, and for good reason. It’s one step towards achieving your fibre quota of the day and the produce helps deliver nutrients and vitamins. Remember to keep mixing it up in terms of colours and variety.

Reduce sodium
Excess sodium could worsen high blood pressure, so it’s important to monitor one’s intake of it. While the taste of the food may change, there are still plenty of herbs and spices to add to make dishes palatable (however, do consult a nutritionist before): think turmeric, basil, red chilli powder, etc. When cooking at home, ensure that less salt is added, but be mindful of what you bring in as well. Typically, instant and pre-packaged foods and sauces come loaded with excess salt, so reading the label is imperative.

Reduce red meat
There have been reports of a link between red meat consumption and the risk of cardiovascular diseases according to a recent study by Northwestern Medicine and Cornell University—the study found that those who consumed red meat regularly stood a three to seven percent higher risk of developing a heart-related disease. Stick to fish and lean cuts of poultry (not fried) for your protein requirements, or plant-based sources like tofu and soy.

Choose whole grains
Whole grains like oats, whole wheat and brown rice are another way to add fibre to one’s diet, and they help control blood sugar. The dietary fibre that they contain also improves one’s cholesterol levels, and conditions that are associated with heart diseases like diabetes and obesity. This is done as the soluble fibre they contain can lower one’s LDL (low density lipoprotein)—the harmful cholesterol that builds up in arteries—by binding to it and eliminating it. Another benefit? They contain important nutrients like iron, magnesium and vitamin B, which help in cell creation and in carrying oxygen in the blood.

Add some fish
There are plenty of studies that uphold the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in preventing cardiovascular diseases. This can be implemented at home by adding more fish to your nutrition plan (try for two servings a week), especially ‘fatty fish’ or ‘oily fish’ like salmon. If you’re a vegetarian, speak to your doctor about including omega-3 supplements, and add more nuts, seeds like chia seeds and flaxseeds to your diet.

Choose your fats wisely
It’s best to avoid items that are high in trans and saturated fats, as they could increase your cholesterol. A lot of premade products that are made with partially hydrogenated oil have it, like frozen goods, baked goods and fried foods. Opt for healthier oils like olive, canola and sunflower.

Reduce sugar
Stick to naturally sweetened foods like fruits, and limit beverages that contain added sugar—this includes juice, as most of them are sweetened. Stick to water and tea, with little or no added sugar. In fact, up your water intake as an increased amount of fibre in your diet requires water for it to be absorbed fully.

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At Seva At Home, we produce a wealth of free health information to help elders live healthier, happier lives. This has been produced by independent research carried out by the Seva At Home team. This information is not a replacement for medical advice. Please consult your physician for relevant medical diagnosis and advice.

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