read Eat Smart for a Healthy Heart

Eat Smart for a Healthy Heart

Eat Smart for a Healthy Heart

The heart is a muscle that pumps blood to various parts of your body round the clock. It’s like the body’s engine, and like every engine, requires fuel in the form of sound nutrition, right exercise, and adequate sleep to function optimally. 

Unfortunately, contemporary life surrounds us with foods that have quantities of fat, sugar, and salt that are unhealthy for the heart. We are also mostly glued to our chairs as well as beds in a sedentary existence. To top it all, unmanaged stress from our day-to-day lives can take a toll on heart health.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the term that describes what happens when your heart’s blood supply is blocked or otherwise interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances (plaque) in the blood vessels (arteries), which transport oxygenated blood to the heart muscle. This may be a result of some or all of the contributing factors being left unchecked. 

There are some risk factors that we cannot control when it comes to heart disease like age, ethnic background, and family history. But we can certainly control our diet and lifestyle

Building healthy eating habits may prevent disease by reducing the effect of other diet-related risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension.

Importance of healthy eating in coronary heart disease

A nutritionally poor diet that focuses on a high intake of refined grain products such as white bread, white rice, and breakfast cereals;  foods with added sugars such as cold drinks, ice-cream; or loaded with salt and unhealthy fats such as bakery products and fast food — is a major risk factor for heart disease and related metabolic disorders such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.

Such a diet may cause a build-up of plaque in your arteries. Arteries or blood vessels are small tube-like structures. When plaque builds up in this tube, it narrows down the passage, reducing the blood flow to your heart, lessening the amount of oxygen as well as nutrients reaching the body.

This reduction causes symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath. If left untreated, CHD can lead to life-threatening conditions like a heart attack or stroke.

The way out is a healthy balanced diet. So what foods should you eat and not eat?

Foods to include

Fruits and vegetables

Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories. They are sources of many essential nutrients such as potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate.

Dietary fiber from fruits and vegetables helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Include five servings of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet to consume adequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals. 

1 serving of fruit

  • 1 medium fruit  
  • 100% fruit juice (150 ml)
  • ¼ cup of dried fruit

1 serving of vegetable

  • 100g of raw or cooked vegetables
  • Vegetable juice (150ml)
  • 2 cups (100g) of raw leafy salad greens

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), adult men and women should eat 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.

Fruits and veggies to moderate/ avoidFruits and veggies to choose instead
Vegetables with creamy sauces
Fried or breaded vegetables
Canned fruit packed in heavy syrup
Candied dried fruit 
Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits
Low-sodium canned vegetables 
Canned fruit packed in juice or water
Fruits and vegetables to avoid/ have in moderation and ones to choose

Whole Grains

Whole grains are high in dietary fiber, low in fat, and rich in vitamin E, iron, selenium, zinc, and B-complex vitamins.

The high fiber content of whole grains will help regulate your cholesterol level, maintain blood pressure, help with weight management, and support healthy digestion. Make at least half of your grains whole grains.

Refined grains are milled – a process that removes the outer covering (bran) and germ. This gives grains a finer texture and improves their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. For instance, refined wheat flour, white rice, and white bread.

Adult men and women should have 6-8 and 5-6 servings of whole grains respectively per day.

1 serving of grain (16g of whole grain ingredient)

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/2 bowl (50g) of ready-to-eat cereal
  • ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal
  • 1 ½ tbsp of wheat flour
Grains to moderate/ avoidGrains to choose instead
Doughnuts, biscuits, cakes, muffins
White rice
Refined wheat flour (maida)
White bread
Cornflakes and other breakfast cereals
Refined flour pasta and noodles
Whole wheat, sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra), finger millet (ragi/ nachni), foxtail millet etc.
Brown rice, barley, buckwheat, quinoa
Whole grain wheat flour
100% whole grain bread or 100% whole wheat bread
High-fiber cereal with 5g or more fiber in a serving
Whole grain pasta
Oatmeal (steel-cut or regular)
Grains to avoid/ have in moderation and grains to choose
Healthy fats

Fats are essential for the optimum functioning of the human body, but we need to consume them in a limited amount.

Saturated and trans fats raise the low-density lipoproteins (LDL) which are considered unhealthy, whereas the monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), which lower LDL, are considered beneficial.

Also read: Dietary Fats: How to Choose Right and Eat Smart

Regardless of their types; all fats provide 9 kcal of energy per gram.

A standard low-fat diet contains about 30% or less of its calories from fat. For instance, if your calorie intake is 1,500 calories per day, then your fat intake should be 50g per day.

This includes both visible as well as invisible fat sources. One can include 3-4 teaspoon of fats/ oils a day.

Fats to moderate/ avoidFats to choose instead
Deep fried foods
Fatty meats, red meat
Butter, cream cheese
Palm oil, margarine, shortenings
Full-cream milk
Walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds
Fish like tuna, salmon, sardines
Skinless chicken, seafood, and lean meat
Olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, and soybean oil
Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, sour cream, and cheese
Fats to avoid/ have in moderation and fats to choose

Low-fat protein

It includes all foods made from seafood; meat, poultry, and eggs; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products.

Low-fat protein sources provide vital nutrients for the health and maintenance of your body. Reducing red meats, especially processed meats, and increasing fish, nuts, legumes, and possibly fermented dairy products are likely beneficial for heart health.

Adult men and women should have 6-7 and 5-6 servings of protein sources respectively per day.

1 serving of protein

  • 100g of meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1 bowl (100g)  of cooked beans
  • 50g of eggs (1 whole)
  • 15g of peanut butter (1 tablespoon)
  •  Handful of nuts or seeds (15g)
Proteins to moderate/ avoidProtein foods to choose instead
Full fat milk and dairy products
Organ meats such as liver
Hotdog, sausages, bacon
Fried meats
Low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese
Fish like salmon, sardines
Skinless poultry
Soybeans and products
Proteins to avoid/ have in moderation and proteins to choose

Salt and sugar

Both are abundant in many of the packaged foods we buy — think salty chips or sugary cookies. 

High sodium consumption (>2 g/ day, equivalent to 5 g salt/ day) and insufficient potassium intake (less than 3.5 g/ day) contribute to high blood pressure and may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

WHO recommends adults to consume less than 5g of salt (just under a teaspoon) of salt per day.

Consumption of excess sugar may lead to weight gain and in turn cause insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes. Therefore it is recommended to reduce your intake of free sugars ie, all sugars added to foods or drinks, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and fruit juice concentrates.

WHO recommends that you consume no more than 6 teaspoons or 25g of free sugar per day but ideally should be capped at 1-2 teaspoons per day.

Smart heart-friendly alternatives to satisfy your taste buds

Foods to moderate/ avoidFoods to have instead
Sev puri or fried samosa
Cheese sandwich
Chola bhatura
Milkshake or ice-cream
Fried chips
Egg fried rice
Chicken biryani
Regular dosa
Naan or rumali roti 
Margarine or butter
Boiled chana chaat or sprouts chaat
Hung-curd vegetable sandwich
Chola paratha
Curd or yogurt with fruit
Dried fruits
Egg brown rice pulao 
Chicken curry and brown rice 
Moong dal dosa (pesarattu) 
Tandoori roti
Vegetables and oats tikki
Foods to avoid/ have in moderation and what to choose instead

Whether you’re looking to improve your heart health, or have recently been diagnosed with high cholesterol or high blood pressure, these heart-healthy diet tips may help you better manage these conditions, and considerably lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

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