Diet and Lifestyle Changes: Take Your Step to a Healthy Heart

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) affect the heart and blood vessels. Irregular heart rhythms, coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, heart attack and stroke fall under Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs). Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the most common causes of death worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 18 million people died of cardiovascular disease in 2016, one third of the total number of deaths worldwide. The story is also the same for India.

Behavioral factors such as tobacco consumption, obesity, limited exercise and unhealthy diets contribute to most cardiovascular diseases.

Coronary heart disease is more common in South Asians, including Indians, more than in any other race worldwide. India has the highest burden of coronary heart disease in the world. According to some studies, Indians tend to have a heart attack at a younger age compared to Western people.

It’s about time we started taking our heart health seriously. The first step may be to identify all risk factors and take corrective action. Some risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Remember that lifestyle and diet changes can be our greatest weapons against heart disease.

Maintain a healthy body weight

A healthy body weight reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Having too much fat, especially around the waist, puts you at an increased risk of heart disease. We know the importance of a balanced diet for maintaining a healthy weight.

But we often ignore the importance of proper meal timing. Some healthy eating habits are:

  • Have breakfast within an hour of getting out of bed
  • Eat every three hours. Six meals a day is an excellent strategy to keep your metabolism high.
  • Do not eat anything for at least three hours before going to bed
  • Do not skip meals as this can slow down the metabolism
  • Eat small meals

Some studies say that taking small frequent meals provides the following benefits:

  • Increases BMR
  • Increases energy level
  • Reduces appetite
  • Aid in weight reduction

Know how to differentiate between good and bad fats

Our heart loves good fats. You can add more healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and omega-3 fatty acids, to your diet. Some good sources of healthy fats are:

  • olive oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Rice bran oil
  • peanut oil
  • mustard oil

One should reduce the intake of saturated fats such as:

MUFA reduces low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) and increases high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol).

It is always good to rotate your oils monthly so that both PUFA and MUFA are in the required amount.

Choose good carbs over bad ones

Did you know that not all carbs are the same? High glycemic index carbohydrates can have drastic effects on cholesterol levels, increasing your susceptibility to heart disease. According to some epidemiological studies, a carbohydrate diet with a low glycemic index and a high fiber content may protect against diabetes and cardiovascular disease. You can:

  • Go for complex carbohydrates.
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates
  • Include unrefined whole grains such as Dalia, brown rice, oats, whole wheat, and barley
  • Avoid carbonated drinks, pasta, white bread and processed foods

Antioxidants are good for heart health

Increase the intake of antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, bioflavonoids and beta-carotene. Foods rich in antioxidants include whole grains, nuts, fruits, seeds and vegetables. The antioxidants protect our heart from free radical injury and damage. So start your day with almonds and walnuts to lower LDL.

Fiber is the way to go

Fiber lowers bad cholesterol and protects you from heart disease. A high-fiber diet can help you lose weight.

Your diet should contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Barley, nuts, beans, berries, apples and oatmeal are good sources of soluble fiber. Fruits and vegetables have an abundance of insoluble fiber. One should strictly avoid trans fats as they not only increase bad fat or LDL levels but can also decrease HDL levels.

Avoid sedentary lifestyle

A healthy diet can work wonders when combined with physical activity. According to the American Heart Association, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise can help maintain blood pressure, lower cholesterol and improve overall heart health.

The heart is essential for survival. It works tirelessly for us. Let’s try to give something back to this great organ. Even our small changes in diet and lifestyle are enough to make it healthy.

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