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Valentine’s Day may be over ( and I hope you had great fun on that day) but our hearts continue to beat within us! How much do we care to keep our hearts healthy?
Often heart disease starts in women in their teens, many years before the symptoms actually start to appear. Due to our present hectic lifestyles and the increased intake of junk or packaged foods, high in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, added sugars and cholesterol, women are now equally prone to heart risks as men. Since 1963, the month of February has been deemed American Heart Month by the American Heart Association.
Are Indians at risk too?
Here is what research says: “Compared with all other countries, India suffers the highest loss in potentially productive years of life, due to deaths from cardiovascular disease in people aged 35-64 years (92 lakh years lost in 2000 as per the WHO National Plan of Action, 2006).”
Sounds too scary?
Let us not think of dire consequences but instead I want to focus on the benefits of 8 heart-healthy foods which in turn will ensure our heart’s health and happiness, and at the same time contribute to our over-all well-being.
After all, “A Healthy Heart is Essential to Healthy Living”!
Start your day with a healthy breakfast of oats. Oats are full of Omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium. This fiber-rich food can lower levels of LDL (or bad) cholesterol and help keep arteries clear. Oatmeal is an excellent source of calcium, specially if made with milk. It is filling and will keep you full for a long time. It is a low-fat food, a good source of vitamins and minerals, and contains plenty of protein. The water soluble fiber in oatmeal also helps to lower cholesterol. You can add freshly-cut banana or apple to your bowl of oatmeal for a tasty treat.
Salmon is one of the richest sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon contains the carotenoid ‘astaxanthin’ , which is a very powerful antioxidant. Salmon can effectively reduce blood pressure and keep clotting at bay. Nutritionists recommend two servings per week which may reduce the risk of a heart-attack by up to one-third! You can pan fry it with coriander and eat it with brown rice. If you do not like salmon you can opt for other kinds of fish like mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines which will have similar benefits for your heart.
Spinach is a rich source of Lutein (a carotenoid); B-complex vitamins; folate; magnesium; potassium; calcium and fiber which will ensure your heart’s health. As folate is a vital nutrient for DNA repair so spinach increases the glow of your skin too!
Pick spinach (not lettuce) for salads and sandwiches. Of course as Indians we cannot forget our favorite Palak Paneer!
Avocados, which are ranked by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most nutritious fruit, are not only rich in vitamins A, C, E and K but also boast “healthy” fats that make them both heart-healthy and wonderful for hair and skin. Packed with monounsaturated fat, avocados can help lower LDL levels while raising the amount of HDL cholesterol in your body. They allow the absorption of other carotenoids—especially beta-carotene and lycopene—which are essential for heart health. You can add a bit of avocado to a sandwich or spinach salad.
5. Flaxseed (ground)
Rich in Omega-3 and and Omega-6 fatty acids, fiber and phytoestrogens, a little sprinkling of flaxseed can go a long way for your heart! You can have a heart-healthy breakfast by topping a bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal with a small quantity of ground flaxseed, or even add it to homemade muffins or cookies.
Nuts increase fiber in the diet and are a great source of healthy fat. Walnuts are one of the best plant sources of protein. They are rich in fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and antioxidants such as Vitamin E. Nuts in general are also high in plant sterols and fat – but mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 fatty acids) that have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Walnuts, in particular, have significantly higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids as compared to other nuts. In 2003, the FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) recognized the benefits of nuts and their role in heart disease prevention by approving a health claim for 7 kinds of nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts). These seven nuts were approved as they are the only kinds that contain less than 4g of saturated fats per 50g. Nuts in general are high in calories, so moderation is the key! Eat them as snacks or sprinkle them on your breakfast cereal or add them to salads.
Add lentils, chickpeas, black and kidney beans to your diet. They’re packed with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and soluble fiber. Lentils are an excellent source of fiber and potassium, two nutrients that can help tame high blood pressure. Beans help to lower cholesterol, reduce cancer risks, reduce obesity and offer many other health benefits.
Stir in some beans into your soup or salad to give them a nutrient boost.
8. Olive Oil
Olive oil is a natural juice which preserves the taste, aroma, vitamins and properties of the olive fruit. It is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as it is – freshly pressed from the fruit. Due to its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidative substances, olive oil lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and reduces your risk of developing heart disease by raising HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels. “Results from the Seven Countries Study, which looked at cardiovascular disease incidences across the globe, showed that while men in Crete had a predisposition for high cholesterol levels, relatively few died of heart disease because their diet focused on heart-healthy fats found in olive oil.’’
You should buy the extra-virgin or virgin varieties because they are the least processed. Use olive oil instead of butter for cooking.
Some basic factors to be kept in mind for the Prevention of cardiovascular problems
- If you smoke,please quit it immediately. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease in women.
- If you drink alcohol, you should do so moderately. For women, moderate drinking means one drink per day.
- Choose a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
- Lose weight if you are overweight and aim to get to your ideal body weight in proportion to your height.
- Our heart being a muscle, needs regular exercise to stay in shape. A minimum of 30 minutes of exercising daily is a must. Aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking, swimming, jogging or cycling, gives our heart the best workout. You can also use fitness equipment like exercise bicycles or treadmills indoors.
- Get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels checked regularly.
Let us take a moment to consider our lifestyle and our general health and I am sure that we can make the necessary lifestyle changes to keep our hearts safe and healthy for the future!