More men and women all over the world are diagnosed with debilitating heart disease than any other health problem. The heart can be kept trouble-free by controlling weight, exercising regularly and eating nutritious food. Here are some healthy habits to inculcate so that the most important organ of your body can be kept in great health:
CONTROL PORTION SIZE– Obesity leads to high blood pressure and later to a number of heart diseases. It is, therefore, important to control your portion size so that you are able to maintain a healthy weight. First understand the quantity of food your body really requires by keeping a tab on all that you eat. This is a skill that can be learnt by trial and error only. Try eating generous helpings of vegetables and fruits while cutting down on the quantity of refined cereals like maida. Restaurant portions are usually bigger than one person’s requirement. So either split it with your dining companion or get the leftovers packed for next day rather than trying to polish it all off.
GIVE PREFERENCE TO HOME-COOKED FOOD– The nutritional content of your meals can be controlled only if you eat most of your meals at home. Not only is it cheaper, it also keeps your weight in check. Shopping, cooking and cleaning should all be done by the family members together. It brings the family together and everyone can take turns in deciding the menu making it a fun activity. Cooking while listening or singing to music is another way to make the activity interesting. It makes sense for working people to cut up and store their vegetables and fruits on weekends and store them well in their refrigerator so that there is no rush to do them on weekdays when you are already stretched for time. Baking, boiling, roasting , steaming, poaching and stir-frying lightly are some of the heart healthy cooking methods. Use small amounts of oil and spices like cumin and bay leaves and fresh herbs like basil, thyme or chives. Put as little salt as possible. Processed and packaged foods contain lots of salt, sugar and unhealthy fat. So, avoid them as much as you can for good health.
CONSUME HIGH FIBRE FOOD– Whole grains, wheat cereals and vegetables like carrots, celery and tomatoes all have insoluble fiber whereas barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts and fruits like apples, berries, citrus fruits and pears have soluble fiber. Consumption of all these high fiber foods lowers bad cholesterol and its nutrients prevent heart disease. Fiber gives you a feeling of fullness for a longer period because it stays longer in your stomach than any other foods. This makes you to eat less resulting in weight loss. Fiber helps in quicker movement of fat through the digestive system which is why it gets absorbed less. Fiber gives you more energy for exercising. So, all the more reason to include a lot of fiber-rich foods in your diet.
STAY AWAY FROM EXCESSIVE SALT AND PROCESSED FOODS– Consumption of excessive salt leads to high blood pressure which in turn is a major cause of cardio-vascular disease. Try and cook all your food fresh including soups and stews because canned and processed foods have a lot of salt added to it. Add herbs and spices to your food to add flavours. Try not to eat more than a teaspoon of salt in a day.
UNHEALTHY FATS WITH GOOD FATS SUBSTITUTE – Trans fats raise your LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol lowers your HDL ‘good’ cholesterol levels thereby increasing your risk of cardio-vascular diseases. Anything that has hydrogenated oil as its ingredients including commercially baked and fried foods should be avoided as much as possible for they contain trans fats.
Tropical oils, dairy and red meat have saturated fats and their consumption should be limited. Instead opt for other sources of protein like fish, skinless chicken, eggs and vegetarian proteins like lentils, tofu , quinoa etc.
Blood cholesterol levels can be improved by eating foods with monosaturated and poly-saturated fats. These also help in lowering your risk of heart disease. Intake of foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, trout or herring should be regular. Vegetarians can get their healthy Omega-3 fats from flaxseeds, kale, spinach or walnuts. Olive oil, avocados, nuts are also good sources of healthy fats. Be careful about replacing fat with sugar or refined carbs for these are as harmful for heart health.
It is a well known fact that prevention is always better than cure. Therefore, be aware of your nutritional needs and try fulfilling them without going overboard. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or a DASH diet – the main points of which are given above, is an important method to regularise your diet thereby ensuring a healthy heart and a healthy body.
(Disclamier: Writer is Avni Kaul, Nutritionis, Founder of Nutri Activania. Views expressed are personal opinion.)