Keeping the heart healthy
A heart attack is known as an 'event', but this is one event you never quite plan for. You never know when your day will come since heart problems are not limited to senior citizens and inactive people. Statistics indicate that cardiovascular disease is increasing and may manifest itself in various forms, from high blood pressure to heart failure.
High blood pressure is an early indicator of heart disease. It is the force of blood pumped by the heart against the walls of the artery. When blood pressure is high, it is an indication that the blood vessels have lost some elasticity or have narrowed in such a way that pressure gradually builds up. High blood pressure is influenced by family traits, race, body weight, levels of exercise, cigarette smoking, stress and diet.
How do you protect your heart? There are a number of must-dos to keep your heart healthy. Sixty per cent of heart attacks can be prevented through simple changes in diet and lifestyle. Simple changes include quitting smoking, weight loss, more exercise and eating right. The heart-friendly diet is one which uses everyday foods in interesting ways. A critical factor in heart-disease prevention is the avoidance of trans fats, saturated and cholesterol. It is important to increase the use of healthy fats such polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil and nuts which can help reduce cholesterol.
Naturally, there are several other foods to avoid, primarily refined starches and sugars. According to a report from the Harvard School of Health, these foods are capable of reducing the 'good' HDL cholesterol and raising the 'bad' LDL cholesterol levels and inflammatory factors. It has been well established that inflammation impacts negatively on the heart and is linked to all stages of heart disease (
Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology
, 2006, vol 28). Select foods and beverages low in sugar. Some added sugars which should be avoided include fructose, sucrose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup and maple syrup.
There are several recommended foods for heart-healthy eating. In general, foods selected for a healthy heart should contain less fat, sodium, cholesterol, calories and more fibre. Considering these factors does not mean excluding favourite foods. Food labels can help you make the right choices in selecting most prepared foods such as breads, cereals, snacks, desserts, beverages and canned foods.
Fresh fruits and vegetables:
It is recommended that you should eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This practice reduces heart disease by up to 24 per cent (Public Health Nutrition, 2006). Fresh produce will eliminate free radicals from the bloodstream, protecting blood vessels. The remarkable ability of antioxidants in plant foods prevents cholesterol oxidation in the arteries. Further, vitamin C reduces inflammation and fibre helps flush cholesterol. The high nitrate content of fruits and vegetables convert into compounds that protect the heart.
Green, leafy vegetables contain folate, which helps to keep the heart healthy. Use fresh spinach to make your salad instead of iceberg lettuce. Vegetables of all types should make up at least 50 per cent of your meals. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and carotenoids known to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish-like salmon, sardines, tuna, herring and mackerel, decrease the risk for all types of cardiovascular disease and reduce, by 50 per cent, the risk of death from coronary heart disease (
American Journal of Cardiology
, 2006 vol 98). Fish is a good source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and should be part of the weekly menu at least two times per week.
They provide a protective element for the heart because of their high omega-3 content. Selection includes almonds, pecans, peanuts, pistachios and macadamias. Five ounces a week can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Sunflower, pumpkin, sesame seeds and flaxseed are high in plant sterols and phyto-oestrogens, which help to reduce 'bad' cholesterol. It is advisable to consume only about one ounce per day to control weight as seeds like nuts are calorie dense.
It is known to reduce the bad cholesterol and increase the good cholesterol. According to the
Annals of Internal Medicine
, 2006, research has shown that people who ate a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil showed a significant reduction in blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol compared to people who followed a low-fat diet. Cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil is very nutritious and can be used to make a dressing with balsamic vinegar and oregano.
An important source of soluble fibre called beta glucan with a potential cholesterol-lowering ability. This is through the action of the soluble fibre in oat bran, which binds the acids in the intestine, blocking the absorption of cholesterol by the body. Oat bran also contains antioxidant compounds called avenanthramides, which prevent white blood cells from sticking to walls of the artery, preventing the formation of plaque.
Yams, sweet potatoes, coco, dasheen and other ground provisions are high in soluble fibre, which aids in lowering bad cholesterol.
The protein in soy has been shown to prevent heart attacks and is an excellent protein substitute for red meat, which will reduce your intake of saturated fat. Soy is rich in isoflavones, B-complex vitamins, niacin, calcium and magnesium.
It is believed that 2-4 cups of green tea help the heart by inhibiting cholesterol synthesis to prevent atherosclerosis.
Despite the bad rap it has been given, chocolate has properties to protect the heart. The cocoa in chocolate lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, increases the good cholesterol and decreases the bad cholesterol. It is best to choose extra-dark chocolate to get the best antioxidant content. Caution: Only eat about an ounce a day.
Wine contains powerful antioxidants which are good for the heart, improving the good HDL cholesterol. However, drink in moderation - no more than 2 glasses per day. Drinking wine is also associated with stress reduction.
The use of herbs and supplements is highly recommended for heart health.
This vitamin group lowers homocysteine levels, which inhibit blood flow and can damage the arteries leading to the heart.
This is a vitamin-like substance which helps convert food into energy and helps reduce high blood pressure and the risk of congestive heart failure, heart arrhythmia and angina.
Cooking with garlic - about 300mg three times daily - to reduce the risk of heart attack.
There is an inverse relationship between selenium intake and heart disease because of its antioxidant protection and lessening the clumping of blood platelets.
Grape seed extract:
It contains powerful antioxidants which promotes good cholesterol and bolsters circulation by strengthening capillaries, arteries and veins.
SALMON WITH VEGETABLES
1x12-inch square of parchment paper or plastic wrap
1 tbsp carrots, cut in strips (julienne)
1 tbsp celery, cut in strips
1 tsp butter
6oz salmon fillet,
1 tbsp tomatoes, diced
tsp parsley, minced
1 tsp white wine
1 tsp lemon juice
Black pepper to taste
Lay parchment paper flat on work table. Arrange carrots and celery in the centre. Dot with half of butter. Lay salmon fillet on top of vegetables. Top with tomatoes, parsley, white wine, lemon juice and pepper. Dot with remaining butter. Seal packages with a piece of string and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
ORANGE CANDIED YAMS
1 medium-size yam, about 8 inches long
2 tbsps orange juice
1 tbsp packed brown sugar
1 tbsp butter
Dash of nutmeg
1. Peel yam into
-inch thick rounds.
2. Place in a skillet with just enough water to cover and simmer for about 10 minutes or cook until tender when pierced with a fork.
3. Drain in a colander and set aside.
4. Add orange juice, sugar, butter and nutmeg to the skillet.
5. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly.
6. Return yam slices to skillet and gently turn in sauce to coat. Reduce heat to low. Cover saucepan and cook for several minutes or until glaze is absorbed.
Other easy strategies for keeping the heart healthy are available for day-to-day integration.
Physical activity is necessary to staving off heart problems. By simply burning 500 calories per week, researchers indicate that heart-disease risks start declining. Simple tasks around the yard or home, walking upstairs or walking the dog are far better than rapidly going head-on into exercise. It is better to see your doctor before you start an exercise programme.
Engaging in techniques like yoga, tai chi, transcendental meditation can reduce the risk for blood pressure or blood pressure if you already have it.
This is excellent therapy for heart problems. According to the
Journal of Chinese Medicine
, 2003, acupuncture calms a group of nerves called the endorphin system, which helps to lower blood pressure and regulate heartbeat.
Genetic history: Check your genetic history for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart attacks. Also, check your doctor for an evaluation and get recommendations for heart-healthy foods, herbs and supplements.
Heather Little-White, PhD, is a nutrition and lifestyle consultant in Kingston. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 922-6223.