Good health
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Dr Anjali Mukerjee

Heart disease develops after a lifetime of poor eating habits, coupled with genetic factors. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and changing your diet can help avert this catastrophe

Dr Anjali MukerjeeWHEN people develop heart disease they stop eating eggs, give up butter and switch to margarine. The so-called-healthy margarine is nutritionally worse than butter as it contains hydrogenated fats or trans fatty acids. (These are unnatural fats which raise total cholesterol, reduce good cholesterol and make the blood sticky). Little do they realise that it's not just the butter and eggs which are the culprits. All through their lives they've been eating out in restaurants, consuming huge amounts of high-fat milk, maida, sugar, chocolates, processed foods, farsan etc. They have been poisoned by cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and preservatives. They have developed deficiencies of selenium, zinc, magnesium, chromium, etc. Heart disease develops after a lifetime of poor eating habits coupled with wrong genetics.

Many people think of heart disease as a male affliction because the symptoms show up eight to 10 years earlier in men than in women. But women tend to 'catch up' soon after menopause. Most diets designed to prevent cardiovascular disease have one primary goal, which is to 'lower cholesterol levels'. But this is just one among a number of ways to protect your heart. If all adults were to follow a cholesterol-lowering diet only, the number of deaths from heart disease would still be much higher. For ultimate protection you need to reduce other risk factors as well the most important of which is the way the blood clots. This is the single greatest determinant of whether you will suffer a heart attack or a stroke. The viscosity of the blood, its stickiness and its tendency to form clots are important factors that can be averted and check cardiovascular tragedies.

In the early stages of life the arteries are clean elastic and open. But wrong lifestyle and food choices allow the arteries to get clogged (atherosclerosis) and coronary artery disease (CAD) begins. Because of excessive fatty food intake fatty plaque appears in the layer of cells that line the artery wall. This plaque partially chokes the blood flow and narrows the passage. If it grows large enough it may form clots, which can block the blood flow through the arteries, suffocating a part of the cardiac muscle and precipitate a heart attack. If this blood vessel leads to the brain and is choked, you suffer a stroke.

Correct food intake can help keep the arteries clean, elastic and free of hazardous clots. Intake of healthy food does this by preventing cholesterol build up (if it is already high it can lower it) and by keeping the blood thin and clot free. Foods such as garlic, ginger, raw onions, green chillies, green tea, flaxseed help keep the blood thin and clot free. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and supplements like vitamin E also help thin the blood.

All these clot-busting foods function on the common principle -they tend to thin the blood by suppressing platelet clumping, depress fibrinogen levels (high-blood levels of fibrinogen is a predictor of heart disease) and improve clot-dissolving activity. The anti-clotting effect happens almost immediately i.e. within three-four hours of eating them. Therefore, when such foods are eaten regularly in small quantities they can have a powerful pharmacological effect on blood clots and avert heart attacks.

There is overwhelming evidence that you can control the progress of heart disease, although your genetics may partly be at fault. Wrong lifestyle is also to be blamed - smoking, excessive stress, no exercise etc. But even if you eliminate these factors, your 'diet' still remains an all-important decisive factor in precipitating heart disease. What you choose to eat can help you to prevent heart disease. But even if you have already had heart problems, changing your diet can help you to prevent a future catastrophe. It is never too late to begin.

Healthy heart practices

  • Consume two tablespoons of flaxseeds (alsi) powder as it is rich in omega-3 fats, which are beneficial to the heart. These help increase HDL levels (good cholesterol) and thereby reduce the heart-risk ratio.

  • If you are already suffering from heart disease, include raw onions, ginger, black mushrooms, garlic an green tea in the daily diet as these foods help to fight blood clots. 

  • Those suffering from coronary artery disease, regularly consume a bowlful of black chana or green chana boiled and tossed with salad and a teaspoon of rice bran oil or olive oil as dressing. It contains soluble fibre which brings down cholesterol and folic acid which reduces homocysteine , high levels of which are implicated in heart disease.

  • Ensure that at least 25 per cent of the diet should consist of vegetables other than potatoes. Vegetables are rich in soluble fibre and help lower blood cholesterol.

  • Eat at least two to three fruits every day.

  • Eat two cloves of chopped raw garlic every day. It is a vaso-dilator and helps lower blood pressure. Its antioxidants protect against cancer and it has blood thinning properties as well.

  • Vitamin E helps prevent LDL cholesterol oxidation. The required dosage is between 200-400mg daily.

  • Crush two to three cloves of garlic and cook it lightly with tomatoes in a teaspoon of rice bran oil or olive oil. Spread the paste on a slice of whole wheat bread or a whole wheat khakra (oil free) and have it for breakfast along with a glass of vegetable juice made from half raw onion, two carrots and two tomatoes. (the anticoagulant compound called 'ajoene', present in garlic is released in the presence of heat and acidic food like tomatoes.)

  • Eat half an onion as part of the salad with each meal. This would help to keep the blood thin.

  • Above all, avoid fried foods, maida-based products and sugar-laden desserts as of these end up as blood fats. 

  • A regular brisk walk of 30-40 minutes helps to keep blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol in check.

Well oiled

Apart from choosing the right foods, choosing the right cooking oil is of vital importance for heart and health. Stay away from trans fats. They raise the bad cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease several times more than saturated fats. It is advisable to keep trans fats intake to less than 1 per cent of total calories. So if you are following a 2,000 calorie diet, you should consume less than two gm of trans fats in a day. Trans fats lurk in every delicious snack e.g : cake, cookies, biscuits, potato chips, fried farsan, non-dairy creamers, cake mixes, French fries, etc. It's important to avoid all such foods as they make your blood sticky and precipitate a heart attack.

Use heart-friendly oil like rice bran oil as it offers tremendous health benefits both for your heart and health in general. Rice bran oil is a good choice as a healthy cooking medium because it has a desirable fatty acid composition; it is loaded with antioxidants not found in other cooking oils, has high heat stability, a high smoking point and the most powerful cholesterol-lowering properties as compared to other cooking oils. It also has unique micro nutrients which are required for maintenance of good health. Given the current state of scientific knowledge and scientific evidence, rice bran oil seems to be the healthiest of all edible oils as a cooking medium.

The writer is a nutritionist. She treats obesity and related health disorders online . She can be reached at [email protected] /