The present-day lifestyle choices have made our most significant organ, the most vulnerable. Our heart is at the center of attack with the sedentary lifestyle so much so that heart diseases these days account for over one-third of global deaths. With heart problems affecting people as young as in their twenties, the number only seems to be increasing.
A major factor that affects our heart is the food that we eat. One might think that the food we eat affects our stomach the most but even the risk of heart diseases in a person can be estimated with the kind of diet he/she takes. In fact, certain food items can well influence the health of one’s heart, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and inflammation. All of these problems in turn become the risk factors for heart diseases.
Heart health: What to eat and what to avoid
The lifestyle you choose and the diet you take certainly act as a protective shield against heart disease. However, as important as it is to know the diet one should take for a better heart, it is equally necessary to know the foods that one must avoid. It is a two-way process when it comes to the diet for a healthy heart. By improving the diet, you can lower your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar. All these will in fact lower the risk of heart diseases. Not only that, you can also prevent yourself from obesity which will improvise the functioning of your heart as well as your blood vessels.
Foods to Avoid for a Heart Healthy Diet
Some of the food items that one should avoid for a healthier heart are:
- Researchers have found low-fat dairy to lower blood pressure. However, dairy can sometimes be a reason for bad cholesterol levels as well and the experts suggest that dairy products be either avoided or consumed with caution.
- Added sugars such as table sugar or syrups have also been discovered to be linked with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, and stroke. Hence processed food items containing added sugar and sweetened drinks such as soda, food drinks, energy drinks, etc. are advised to be avoided.
- Food items rich in saturated fats and trans-fats also raise the risk of having a heart disease. Some foods high in trans-fat and saturated fat are crackers, doughnuts, fried food items, baked goods, non-dairy creamer, microwave popcorn, etc.
- Red meat like pork, lamb, and beef also contains high amount of cholesterol and saturated fat that increases the risk to your heart. Hence it is advised to consume it in moderation.
- Some say a low to moderate intake of alcohol can also help in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases but an uncontrolled consumption cannot just enhance the risk to heart but also to liver and cancer, hence there are more reasons to avoid it then consume it.
Foods to maximize your heart health
A balanced diet is important for a healthy heart. Some food items that can be a part of your diet include:
- Legumes have been found to reduce the risk of a coronary heart disease. Consumption of legumes can also help reduce weight, lower cholesterol levels, and even blood pressure. Hence, legumes like beans, chickpeas, soybeans, peas, lentils, and peanuts can be added to the diet.
- One valuable mineral that the body needs against any heart disease is potassium as it relaxes the blood vessel walls, lowers blood pressure and also balances out the effects of salt by helping the body in excreting sodium through urine. However, experts still suggest the consumption only moderately. Some potassium rich foods include bananas, sweet potatoes, avocado, spinach, etc.
- Omega 3 fatty acids reduce the blood vessel damage by reducing the inflammation amount through the body as they are unsaturated fats. They also reduce the risk of abnormal heartbeats, triglycerides levels, and blood pressure as well as slow plaque buildup in the arteries. Fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, kidney beans, etc. are some examples of Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Dietary fiber also decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Soluble fiber reduces the levels of low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation. Dietary fiber that include all types of grains, oats, oatmeal, raspberries, blueberries, raisins, lentils, apple with skin, etc. also reduce overall calories.
- Green leafy vegetables that increase the folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 in your diet also decrease the risk of developing the heart disease.
- Black tea or green tea without added sugar, dairy or sweeteners has also been suggested to improve the health of your heart and also maintain safe levels of cholesterol as well as triglycerides.
Dr. Naveen Chandra (Consultant – Interventional Cardiology)
Columbia Asia Hospital - Whitefield