A study published in the 2018 edition of the medical journal ‘The Lancet’ revealed that Cardiac ailments killed more Indians (28%) than any other communicable disease in the year 2016. This is double the numbers reported in 1990 when the number stood at 15%.
So what has changed?
The study also had an interesting finding that these deaths were due to heart disease which were not amongst senior citizens but amongst those below 70 years of age (Typically the breadwinners of the family). This rising incidence can be attributed to a number of factors including bad food habits, hypertension, air pollution, high cholesterol, and smoking.
However, the biggest risk factor causing almost 54.4% of these cases was found to be dietary habits. To deal with this public health crisis, we need to take a serious look at our unhealthy food choices and re-evaluate them in the face of this growing predisposition to heart attacks and other cardiac diseases.
It’s common knowledge that some food items tend to increase the risk of heart diseases, and you have a set of eating habits (especially unhealthy ones); it can be challenging to change them. Creating a heart healthy diet plan that is heart healthy, nutritious, and delicious requires consistency, dedication, and strong will power.
If you’ve reached a point where you want to leave your unhealthy eating habits behind, and want to keep your heart healthy for a long time, then listed below are some helpful dietary habits, meal plans, and heart healthy foods that are prescribed by eminent Cardiologists.
Portion size is key: Stop overloading your plate
There is a popular notion that says you can eat whatever you want, as long as you keep the calories and portion sizes in mind. Now, this may not apply to everyone, but it makes sense to someone who is trying to lose weight and have a healthy heart. Sometimes following a rigid diet can be extremely difficult and result in cravings and binge eating sessions. These cravings can cause you to lose motivation and give up. Hence, dieticians and cardiologists recommend that you eat what you want, once in a while, as long as you’re mindful of it.
Overloading your plate, going for seconds even though you’re full, eating until you feel nauseous are all signs of harmful eating patterns and an unhealthy diet; these habits will hurt your health, sooner than later.
To create a healthy habit of mindful portion control, you can use a smaller dish or bowl. This method of serving alone will help you control each macro-component and enable you to eat more nutrition-rich, low calorie, heart-healthy food. This method is also useful if you eat food that is high in sodium and saturated fats because it makes you mindful of the calorically dense food you’re consuming, and it ensures that you don’t go overboard.
Firstly, you must keep a track of the number of servings you eat. It helps to use an app or record it in a journal. Apps such as Healthify are a great alternative especially if you have an Indian diet as it allows you to track by meals and not ingredients. You don’t need to track every ingredient such as chicken, butter, cashew nuts that can get really cumbersome, you can just enter the dish name such as ‘Butter chicken masala’ or ‘Palak Paneer’ and the app will tell you the exact calories you are consuming per serving.
This will help you see the progress you’re making in the long run. Everybody has a different requirement, so the amount of calories and servings you control depends on your meal plan. For instance, somebody who has high blood pressure and is prone to heart diseases will have to stick to a diet that is less fat and with limited sodium. If they ever want to have anything fatty or salty, they have to control the portions.
Secondly, the serving size depends on the type of food you want to consume. It’s not easy to learn the approx. serving size for each food item, but with practice, you will learn. If you have difficulty judging the serving size, then you can take the help of measuring cups, spoons and standard measures that make it easier to track.
Reduce your salt intake:
Reducing the sodium in your food is essential if you want to stay away from heart diseases. Processed and canned foods high in sodium rank highly in the list of foods that cause heart disease. Cardiologists suggest that we consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt a day that is a teaspoon of salt. Reducing the sodium you add to your food, in a day, is a good first step. However, the salt that you eat mostly comes from processed and canned food. This is where you need to be mindful of the food you eat, try to consume fresh, organic, and nutritious food. This will give you control over the portions and the sodium quantity as well.
However, if you’re short on time and find it convenient to prepare instant food from cans and packets, then read the nutrition facts on the labels before you consume them. This habit will help you be aware of the ingredients and their benefits too.
Additionally, you can monitor your sodium intake by being wary of the condiments you eat. Try using substitutes for regular sauces or the low sodium/calorie versions. For instance, pink salt or sea salts are great alternatives for table salt, and they add the same amount of flavour as well.
Avoid saturated fats and trans fats:
Many people believe that banishing fats from your diet altogether will help you lead a healthy life, and this is not true at all. It’s okay to consume fat if they are healthy and consists of less than five percent saturated fats. You have to avoid trans fats because that’s the unhealthy kind. If you’re consuming any fat, you have to keep it minimal because you don’t want your cholesterol levels to shoot up. High cholesterol levels can lead to a heart attack.
You can reduce your fat intake by choosing to consume lean meats or trimming the fat off the meat; the lean meat has to have less than 10% fat. Additionally, if you’re planning to grill, sear, or roast the meat, you can start by adding less butter or oil. Low-fat substitutions are a great option if you want to have a heart-healthy diet.
You have to remember that not all fats are bad and your body needs healthy fats to function. You can start by choosing monounsaturated fats like olive oils and polyunsaturated fats like avocados, nuts and seeds, and salmon.
Wholegrains over Refined grains:
Always opt for food items that are wholegrains because they are a part of the complex carb food group; these food options play a vital role in regulating heart health and cholesterol levels. You can start by substituting white rice, that is refined and void of nutrients, with millets, barley or quinoa.
If you’re looking at incorporating a diet that is focused on whole wheat and complex carbohydrates, then you have to avoid the following food items. A good rule of thumb is to avoid white and look for colour in your diet:
- White rice
- White bread
- Buttered Popcorn
Keep sugar levels in check:
There are two types of sugars that you can consume, natural and refined. You can’t escape sugar because it’s found in almost everything. Natural sugars are found in fresh fruits, and refined sugars are found in processed foods as well as carbonated drinks.
When you don’t control your sugar intake, you will start experiencing high blood sugar. Additionally, if your sugar intake and sugar levels are left unchecked, it can lead to diseases like type 2 diabetes.
Some easy ways you can keep your sugar intake in check are by exercising regularly. Regular workouts help stabilize your insulin sensitivity and provide weight loss benefits, as well. Exercise also helps use up sugar and fat for energy and muscle contraction. If you have fluctuating blood sugar levels, then you will have to keep checking it regularly to understand the food you eat and your workouts as well.
Another way to stabilize your blood sugar and maintain heart health is by controlling your carb intake.
This is because when carbohydrates break down in the body, they get converted to sugar. Consuming too many carb items can cause an increase in insulin and a rise in blood glucose levels.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate:
This suggestion may sound cliché, but it’s true. Cardiologists have repeated, time and again, that the key to good heart health is water. Optimum hydration allows your body to function properly and flush the toxins as well. Drinking 8 glasses of water to prevent dehydration, helps with circulation, keeps your blood sugar levels in check, and reduces the risk of diabetes as well.
If you find plain water boring, then you can always spruce the flavour by adding cucumber, mint, and lemon; this combination has almost zero calories, it’s tasty and refreshing, and will encourage you to hit your daily hydration goal, as well.
Green is good, add more color (Fruits and Veggies):
No matter what meal plan you follow, ensure that you have an ample amount of heart healthy vegetables and fruits included in it. This is because fruits and veggies are laden with vitamins and minerals.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, and they help you feel full even if you eat a small amount. Plant-based foods have components that prevent the early onset of cardiovascular diseases. If you incorporate more vegetables and fruits into your diet and reduce the meat quantity, you will notice a change in your physical and mental health.
Meal prep to avoid an unhealthy binge:
In today’s hectic lifestyle, we get tired quickly, and it’s quite easy to binge on junk food. However, there is one easy solution that will save your time and help you eat nutritious home-cooked food. Meal planning is a fantastic concept that allows you to chop and cook your week’s meals in advance. This process will enable you to grab your lunch from the fridge and be on your way, without having to decide what you want to eat and spending hours cooking up a storm.
When meal prepping, ensure that you add whole wheat grains, vegetables, protein, and healthy carbs/fats. All these food groups together will ensure you have a tasty and nutritious meal.
Follow these Heart Healthy Recipes:
Here are some heart-healthy recipes that you can follow for breakfast, lunch, and dinner:
Breakfast: Avocado Toast
You can toast some wholegrain toast and slather some mashed Avocado on it, and you can finish it with sunny side up eggs. Ensure you season it well, for maximum flavour. This dish is a healthy breakfast item because it has healthy carbs, fats, and protein. All the nutrition needed to have an active and productive day.
Lunch: Grilled Chicken Sandwich (Lean Meat)
For lunch, you can have a wholegrain sandwich that can have grilled chicken, salad veggies, and hummus spread. You can serve it up with a side of sweet potato fries. Try to limit your carb intake during lunch time; this way, you can avoid feeling sleepy and bloated.
Dinner: Vegetable Stir Fry with Grilled Chicken
It’s always ideal to keep your dinner light and focused on vegetables and protein; try to avoid carbs at night. So, you can make a stir fry with loads of veggies and grill some fish or chicken. Both can be seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, chili, and ginger.
Hopefully, the heart-healthy tips listed above will help you out with your diet and make heart healthy lifestyle choices. Living a better and healthier life is all about making conscious decisions, strong will power, and consistency; if you follow these tips, eating in a heart healthy way will eventually become a second nature.
The final word remains with “you” you yourself are responsible for your heart, we cannot modify one’s genes but we can definitely reduce the environmental risk factors. Diet is one of the important reason which can have an impact on reducing cardiovascular disease risk. My ABCD to remember:
- Attitude – A strong mind can control what you want to take. If you are desperate about junk food, your mind can stop it.
- Bring in healthy food items. Increase green leafy veggies, lean meat & fish.
- Cut down on carbs, increase fibre content. Avoid rice, white flours & diary products.
- Don’t drink and smoke as it changes your liver metabolism & liquid levels. Smoking & tobacco damages your heart internally.