The everyday stresses in today’s life have started taking a toll on people’s health. In earlier days, heart ailments would typically affect only the elderly. Those days are long gone. Bad food habits, an unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle and high-stress careers have brought down the age of those affected drastically. It is no more uncommon for an executive in his/ her prime to complain of high cholesterol levels. The number of cases of 35-45 year olds suffering from heart attacks has also seen a steady rise in recent years.
To maintain a healthy heart, it is critical to exercise, maintain your fitness levels and get adequate sleep. However, all of this must be balanced with a well thought through diet for it to have a positive effect. One must know which foods are enemies of the heart (as they increase your cholesterol levels) and should be avoided or had in controlled quantities. It is equally important to know which foods to load up on and include in your daily diet.
Foods that are bad for the heart
Studies have conclusively proven that trans fat is the ultimate villain. It finds its way into processed and packaged goods, especially those with a longer shelf life. One of the simplest ways to identify trans fat if the nutrition label doesn’t do so is to look out for ‘hydrogenated oils’ in the ingredients. Read nutrition labels carefully and avoid hydrogenated oils as far as possible (many chocolates have this ingredient too).
Love your non-vegetarian dishes? You do not need to turn vegetarian or vegan just yet. Many meats give a range of important nutrients. However, you could switch that red meat (mutton, lamb, beef, pork) with white meat (fish and chicken). Red meat is known to have a whopping amount of saturated fat that raises the number of harmful LDL cholesterol globules in your body. Red meat is not all bad, it does have higher levels of zinc, vitamins B6, B12, amino acids and iron than white meat. Do not avoid it altogether, just limit its intake.
What would breakfast be without eggs? Modern day diets insist that eggs have high cholesterol and should be avoided. However, it is the egg yolk where saturated fats are stored, not in the egg white. Having said that, not all saturated fats are bad and some are actually required by your body. Do not cut away completely from egg yolks as they contain vitamin A and B and are a powerhouse of energy. You may limit your portions though if you’re watching your cholesterol levels.
Salt and Sugar
Salt is the only seasoning that brings out the flavour of any food. It enhances taste. However, too much sodium intake can do you more harm than good. And don’t even get us started on how much we love our sweets. As anyone with a sweet tooth will confess, a doughnut or a cheesecake just makes life seem a little nicer. Unfortunately, too much sodium and sugar intake is directly linked with higher blood pressures, as it retains the excess fluid in your body. The recommended daily intake of sodium should be less than 1,500 mg according to The American Heart Association.
So what’s the good news?
Here are some heart-friendly foods that you must make sure are included in your diet –
Exchange those cheese omelettes for a heart-healthy breakfast of oats. Oats are said to contain a type of fiber that helps to bind bile acids and expel them from the body. These bile acids are made from cholesterol. A diet that includes oats is effective in lowering the cholesterol levels in our body. Oats are also rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.
This is the best news ever. Munching on a handful of nuts can do wonders for your heart. It does not mean that you should finish off that box of salted cashews. But it is a good idea to exchange your mid-meal snack with some assorted nuts. Almonds, walnuts and many more nuts are now considered to be the super foods in promoting heart health. These nuts have high amounts of unsaturated fats, which is good for the heart as it helps in reducing the inflammation of the arteries. A handful of nuts every day, would help keep heart problems at bay!
If you love blackberries and blueberries, here’s good news. Berries are the new power foods. These fruits are packed with antioxidants and help to significantly reduce blood pressure. They also boost the good HDL cholesterol levels, and thus help in your endeavour towards a healthy heart. Berries are rich sources of photo-chemicals which are a powerful tool to aid smoother blood flow and to fight serious ailments.
The Indian diet is legume-heavy. Rajma-chawal is a universally loved dish across the country. It also helps that it is extremely healthy. Legumes are great for the heart and have antioxidants, proteins and fiber. They are also a great source to get your folate requirement from. Like berries they also help in increasing the platelet activity.
Love to eat fish? Go for salmon, a cold-water fish that boasts of abundant amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, which are great to promote a healthy heart. Salmon is easy to cook and may be included in your meal as a sandwich filling, cold cuts, in sushi or even the filet as a main course. No other common fish has such great amounts of omega 3 as salmon. A rich source of easily digestible protein, salmon aides in strengthening the heart muscles.