Sunday 25 September 2016

Eat your way to a healthy heart

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in Ireland. In order to combat this heart condition, we must change our lifestyle, says consultant nutritionist Gaye Godkin. Here are some quick and easy changes you can make to your diet for a happier and healthier you

Published 01/03/2016 | 02:30

Eat a rainbow: fruit and vegetables.
Eat a rainbow: fruit and vegetables.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD)remains the number one killer worldwide. It is the number one killer in Ireland. It is called a lifestyle-related disease as most cases can be prevented by adopting positive lifestyle changes. According to the World Health Organisation, diet is the most modifiable risk factor to reduce the incidence and prevalence of CVD.

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The burden of CVD remains high due to many factors. Inflammation is probably the biggest causal factor of CVD, and the ever increasing waistline over the past 20 years is driving rates of heart disease in Ireland.

While exercise is very important, it only accounts for 20pc of weight loss.

What we put in our mouths daily accounts for 80pc. There are many easy changes we can implement to our diets - which are not the healthiest in Ireland - by making healthier food choices.

are you an apple or a pear?

Being overweight is one of the strongest determinant factors for inviting heart disease to your door. However, more importantly that excess fat is where the fat is stored on your body.

If you carry weight around your hips and legs, your risk is somewhat lower than if you carry weight around your middle. Fat around the middle is termed 'white fat' and as such is metabolically active, which means it is producing toxic proteins that are attacking your internal organs. These proteins drive the inflammatory process and cause damage to the delicate lining of the arteries and veins in the heart.

Become fat aware

In Ireland, we really need to ditch the low-fat no-fat nonsense and become aware of the other healthy members of the fat family.

The introduction of the low-fat no-fat products came about as a result of the high rates of CVD in America. Today CVD remains higher worldwide in spite of the billions spent daily on low-fat products.

Fats have been unfairly demonised and there is much confusion around eating this essential nutrient. All fats are not the same. Fatty foods that are processed with vegetable oils and contain trans-fats are very damaging to the heart.

Doughnuts, cakes, biscuits, pizza, chips, processed meats and deep fried foods are all cooked in fats that are reheated or margarines that are processed and contain artificial fats. These types of fats clog up cell membranes, arteries and veins. They interrupt metabolism and produce inflammation which drives heart disease. There is no safe limit for trans-fats in the diet.

Fat and healthy

Despite the fact that fats and oils contain double the calories of a carbohydrate, they remain an essential part of a healthy diet. Healthy oils include olive oil, coconut oil, rapeseed oil, cold pressed sesame oil, rice bran oil, cold pressed pumpkin seed oil and cold pressed nut oils.

These oils provide the body with certain fatty acids that keep it healthy. Similarly, nuts and seeds such as almonds, pecan, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flaxseeds all contain healthy fats which, when consumed in the diet, are cardio protective.

The super star of the monounsaturated family that really takes care of the heart is olive oil. Olive oil contains certain plant chemicals that promotes heart health. Olive oil that is cold pressed contains the richest source of chemicals that support heart health. Much of this research comes from the Mediterranean diet where it has been observed that the rates of heart disease are far lower than many other countries such as Ireland.

Learn from the Japanese

The king of all the fat family is a fat called omega 3 fats. These fats work differently in the body to any other fat. One of the positive ways they work is by reducing the thickness of blood, thus reducing the risk of clotting.

They also work in many other sophisticated ways in the walls of the arteries and veins. They positively effect heart rhythm and heart beat. They are scientifically proven to lower bad cholesterol.

The Japanese have a long history of eating a diet high in oily fish. It is from their diet and the diet of the Eskimos that we have learnt about this fantastic health-promoting omega 3 fat.

Furthermore the brain, which is often considered a grey matter, is a huge vascular organ and is made up of over 60pc fat. Thirty-three per cent of the brain is made up of omega 3 primarily in the form of DHA.

Despite being an island nation, Irish people do not eat sufficient omega 3 fats. The best sources are mackerel, herring, trout, salmon, sardine, tuna and anchovies. To improve your heart health, aim to include oily fish three times per week.

What about cholesterol?

I work with many people who come to see me with elevated cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is simply a fat which is incorporated into every cell membrane of the body. Cholesterol is vital for the body to function. It becomes a nuisance when the bad cholesterol level is raised.

There are three types measured in a blood test. Raised LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides are associated with increased risk of CVD. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the good cholesterol which is cardio protective. However, if HDL is low, that is also not a good sign. It is difficult to raise it, but eating omega 3 oily fish and incorporating a healthy diet which includes exercise can raise it.

Eggs do contain cholesterol, however, the body needs dietary cholesterol. A whopping 74pc of the cholesterol used in the body is produced in the liver. It has now emerged that a diet high in trans-fats and sugars are the main culprits in producing high LDL and triglycerides.

In most cases cholesterol can be reduced through diet. The good news is that an egg a day is okay.

And salt?

According to the World Health Organisation, high blood pressure is a silent killer. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for the development of CVD and left untreated may damage the entire circulatory system.

Excess sodium in the diet is one of the key drivers of high blood pressure. Salt is made up of two minerals, sodium and chloride. The daily recommendation of sodium intake is between 1.6 to 2grams of sodium which is equivalent to 4/5grams of salt.

The average daily salt intake in Ireland is high - approximately 10g in adults. These intakes are well in excess of physiological requirements. Between 65-70pc of salt intake comes from processed foods. The main culprits in the diet are processed meats, brown and white breads, soups, certain pizza, crisps, MSG used in Chinese cooking and many processed foods, soya sauce, breakfast cereals and margarines.

There are many healthy tasty alternatives such as celery salt, black pepper, garlic, ginger, lemons, limes, herbs and chillies.

Eat a rainbow

The plant kingdom is a very sophisticated set-up. Science is now only beginning to fully understand the role that plants have in reducing the burden of disease in humans.

Plant produce is key to maintaining a healthy heart. It provides us with vegetables and fruit that contain powerful plant chemicals that support and strengthen the arteries and veins, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, support the immune system and provide lots of anti-inflammatory chemicals.

When we digest fruit and vegetables we become enriched with their anti-oxidants. These anti-oxidants protect the cells from inflammation and damage on a daily basis.

Aim to increase your consumption of vegetables in particular. A good rule of thumb is to eat vegetables or fruit with each meal; 50pc of the plate at lunch and dinner should be vegetables.

Think purple

All vegetables are cardio protective, however recent research is showing that fruit and vegetables with red or purple skins have something extra to offer that confers cardio vascular protection.

Berries, red grapes and beetroot are top of the class due to the availability of potent plant components. Berries with yoghurt for breakfast over some muesli or porridge is a great start to the day. Fresh or frozen berries are equally as good.

A glass of red wine daily will provide the antioxidant resveratrol which has shown anti-inflammatory properties.

The vegetable showing the most promise in CVD protection is beetroot. Beetroot contains nitrates which are potent vaso-dilators, it also contains, magnesium, vitamin C is anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

Fresh, juiced or cooked are all good ways of getting it into the diet.

Dangers of excess sugar

Keeping your blood glucose levels under control is very important. Ireland is in the midst of an epidemic of type 2 diabetes. Not to confuse this with type 1 which is an auto-immune condition, type 2 is purely a lifestyle-induced disease. When you suffer with type 2, you have elevated levels of circulating blood glucose. This sugar which is circulating in your veins and arteries acts like steel wool and damages the circulatory system in the entire body, including the brain. The trick is to remove all processed foods and foods high in processed carbohydrates such as biscuits and cakes, even cutting back on bread and wheat is an effective way to control glucose levels.

Eating a diet that is high in vegetables, pulses, beans, wholegrain oats, seeds, nuts, healthy oils and natural yoghurts will give you the necessary slow release of glucose to sustain the body.

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