What can you do to maintain a healthy heart? Here are some positive steps you can take to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol plays an important role in cell membranes and hormones. Your liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs, but if you eat too many foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol (mostly animal foods) it can cause your blood cholesterol levels to rise.
How to reduce cholesterol:
– Lower your intake of ‘bad’ fats, especially saturated (mostly animal) fats. Also avoid trans fats, which occur naturally in foods such as beef, pork, lamb and butterfat (in butter and milk), but can also be formed when unsaturated fats are hydrogenated (a process to solidify liquid oils, for example to create brick margarines). Instead, choose products containing monounsaturated fats such as avacados, olive oil and canola oil; and polyunsaturated fats, such as soybean oil, fatty fish and some varieties of nuts and seeds. Lauren Pietersen, registered dietician at the HSFSA suggests you choose Heart Mark products, as these have more health benefits than most food products found on retailers’ shelves.
– Limit your intake of red meat to two to three times a week and choose the leanest cuts. Include two servings of fish a week, as well as vegetable or soya-product alternatives.
– Remove skin and visible fat from poultry. Limit processed and sausage meats.
– Include plenty of fibre in your diet, especially soluble fibre, as it helps to lower cholesterol levels (found in oats, oat bran, legumes, vegetables and fruit). Also choose high-fibre wholegrain options.
– Eat small, regular meals, as this helps to control blood cholesterol and body weight.
Control blood pressure:
This means lowering your salt intake. Pietersen says one teaspoon a day is enough, especially as processed foods contain a lot of hidden salts.
It triples the risk of heart disease. When you quit, the risk of heart attack and stroke decreases within 24 hours. Also avoid smoke – research shows that non-smokers living with smokers have an increased risk of heart disease of about 25 percent.
This strengthens your heart and helps increase HDL (good) cholesterol in your bood. Pietersen says a lack of physical activity also often leads to being overweight or obesity. In fact, almost 50 percent of South African adults and 17 percent of children are overweight or obese.
Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight:
Eat a balanced diet that includes at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily and make heart-smart food choices.
The HSFSA says there’s increasing evidence of a relationship between the risk of cardiovascular disease and environmental and psychosocial factors, such as job strain, social isolation and personality traits. Acute and chronic stress may also impact on other risk factors and behaviors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating, they say.
Limit alcohol intake:
If you drink alcohol, limit it to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
Know your numbers:
Have your cholesterol tested (and blood pressure and blood glucose levels). That way, you’ll know what diet and lifestyle choices are essential.
Healthy habits from a young age
To prevent heart disease in later life, we should be encouraging a healthy lifestyle in our children. Many children are inactive, spending most of their leisure time watching television, playing computer games or surfing the Internet. This lack of exercise, combined with an unhealthy diet high in fats and refined carbohydrates, has resulted in a rise in childhood obesity and an increased risk of heart disease.
For free nutritional advice, contact one of the registered dieticians at the HSFSA on the Heart Mark Diet Line, 0860-223-222 (Monday to Friday).
This article originally appeared in Heart magazine, for the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA