Fast food and unhealthy eating habits can take a toll on the body. It’s time to give your heart a helping hand, says Shishira Sreenivas
A double cheeseburger with a side of French fries may well tickle your taste buds, but it’s not having the same impact on your heart or waistline. While most of us are aware of the effects of an unhealthy diet, many choose to ignore the full picture – often to their detriment. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 17.3 million people died from cardiovascular diseases in 2008 – that’s 30 per cent of all global deaths.
In Oman, people in their twenties are being diagnosed with heart disease brought on by a sedentary lifestyle and junk food diet.
Just small changes can, however, make a difference. A healthy diet is a major factor in reducing the risk of cardiac problems – by as much as 80 per cent, according to some research. So there’s never been a better time to stop the bad habits and kick-start a new eating regime.
But what are heart-healthy foods?
“There really are an abundance of fruits and vegetables in many colours, shapes and sizes that are good for your heart,” says Julia Zumpano, a dietitian who specialises in preventing heart problems.
“You can definitely reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by eating these foods every day.”
From asparagus to sweet potatoes, these super foods will be kind to your heart. The fresher the food, the better as this produce helps to wipe out free radicals in the bloodstream, protecting blood vessels.
“You want everything to be in its natural form, as it comes from the ground – the less processed the better,” says Zumpano.
So you are looking at foods rich in fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and omega-3 fats. Consuming these foods will not only keep your heart happy, but also help to maintain the rest of the body in tip-top condition.
Your shopping list should include fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, low-fat dairy, legumes, fish, lean meats and nuts, while limiting red meats, sugary foods and beverages.
It may surprise you to learn that foods good for your heart are not limited to exotic fruits, costly organic produce or bottled supplements. You can make heart-smart choices in your kitchen, supermarket or even at a restaurant.
Checking food labels is one of the best ways to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
“Product labels give consumers the power to compare foods quickly and easily, so they can judge which products best fit into a heart-healthy diet or meet other dietary needs,” says Zumpano.
When you’re at the grocery store, check food labels to opt for foods that are low in sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and added sugars, but high in dietary fibres and minerals like magnesium and potassium.
When you dine at your favourite restaurant, opt for lean meats that are baked, broiled or grilled rather than deep-fried.
Be aware, though, that introducing good foods to your daily diet isn’t a quick fix, but will be a conscious lifestyle change that you will have to implement to protect your heart and health in the long term.
“Everyone’s looking for that one magic food,” says Suzanne Farrell, a nutritionist. “But heart-healthy is not only about oatmeal and omega-3 fats. You need to look for ways to get all the different nutrients. Plus, you’ll stick to a heart-healthy lifestyle longer if you have variety.”
Join the “Go Red for Women” campaign this weekend at Majid Al Futtaim’s Muscat City Centre, where the Medical Simulation Center will be offering women free health checks for key cardiovascular disease risk factors.