Development and modernisation have given us an open economy, challenging work opportunities, higher standards of living and also increasing heart problems as a by product. The World Health Organisation estimates that by the year 2020, 60% of the world's cardiac patients will be Indians. What is equally alarming is that nearly 50% of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) related deaths in India occur below the age of 70, compared with 22% in the West. Another noteworthy factor is that there is now a demographic shift happening in CVD - from rich and middle class to lower income groups.
The rising instances of CVDs in India are largely due to lifestyle and diet issues. According to Dr Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Canada, about 80% of the risk can be accounted for by known risk factors like smoking or obesity or blood pressure and the way we live and eat. The way to a healthy heart therefore lies is making wise lifestyle and food decisions.
Cholesterol and your heart
High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. To understand how you can keep your cholesterol level under check, let's first understand what cholesterol is. Cholesterol is a soft wax like substance found in the blood stream and in all body cells. It is used by our body to produce hormones and cell membranes and for other body needs.
There are two sources of cholesterol, a) our body and b) food. The liver and the other cells in our body make about 75% of our blood cholesterol. The rest 25% comes from the food we eat. Cholesterol can't dissolve in the blood. It has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as 'bad' cholesterol. When too much of it circulates in the blood, it can clog arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Our body naturally produces LDL cholesterol but eating saturated fat and dietary cholesterol also increases its amount.
High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as 'good' cholesterol. About one-fourth to one-third of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL. HDL cholesterol is good because high levels of HDL protect against heart attack. According to the medical experts, HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it's passed from the body. Some experts believe that HDL removes excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, slowing its build-up. One must increase the HDL levels through consumption of omega 3 fatty acids, soluble fibre and switching to oils high in monosaturated fats.
Preventing heart disease
The simplest way of reducing the risk of heart disease is taking steps to control factors that put you at greater risk:
- Maintain blood pressure: The heart moves blood through our body. If it is hard for the heart to do this, it will have to work hard and the blood pressure will rise. To control the rise in the blood pressure, one must exercise daily and eat less of salt and fried food.
- Check cholesterol Levels: Eat foods that increase the level of good cholesterol in the blood and avoid those that increase the level of bad cholesterol.
- Check diabetes: Keeping your blood sugar under control reduces the chances of heart diseases.
- Cope with Stress: Staying happy, maintaining social circle and being positive towards life helps to cope stress and acts as a barrier for heart problems.
- Maintain healthy weight: Being overweight raises your risk for heart disease. Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) to see if you are at a healthy weight. Eat a healthy diet and exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Start by adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet. Take a brisk walk on your lunch break or take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Say no to smoking and alcohol: for a healthier life, quit smoking and drinking.
- Begin immediately: Don't wait till you are 40 to adopt these lifestyle changes. Starting early will ensure you maintain a good health and heart throughout your lifespan.
Diet plays an important role in keeping our body fit. A healthy diet, rich of nutrients but less of saturated fat and cholesterol is a key to healthy heart. Here are some dietary suggestions to keep you healthy and reduce your risk of heart problems.
- An intake of low fat vegetarian diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and yoghurt is ideal for the heart.
- If you are a non-vegetarian eat lean meat like fish.
- Switch to healthy cooking oils like mustard oil.
- The fat intake should be below 30% of our total calories. Try to avoid excessive fried stuff.
- Less than 10% of the fat should come from saturated fat.
- Not more than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol should be taken.
- Salt and sugar intake should be kept to minimum
- Lots of fibre containing food such as raw vegetables fruits should be part of the daily meals.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates like refined sugar and flour.
Signs of an heart attack
- Chest discomfort- Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the centre of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body- Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness
- Women are more likely than men to have symptoms of nausea, vomiting, back or jaw pain, and shortness of breath with chest pain.
Mustard oil good for a healthy heart
Mustard oil is considered one of the healthiest edible oils as it has the lowest amount of saturated fatty acids and a high amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are good for health. Several studies have found that mustard oil is the best for heart health.
A study by Harvard School of medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi and St. John Hospital, Bangalore, found that chances of heart disease drop by nearly 70% on use of mustard oil as a cooking medium. Renowned cardiologists have now started comparing the nutritional benefits of mustard oil with olive oil and have conclusive proof about mustard oil's superiority. According to S. C. Manchanda, former professor, Department of Cardiothoracic Diseases at AIIMS, mustard oil is healthier than olive oil because it has no trans-fats, has low saturated fats, high mono-unsaturated fats, high polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 and stability at high temperatures, which makes it ideal for cooking and even deep frying,"
Mustard oil is composed of oleic fatty acid, linoleic acid and erucic acid. At 5%, it has the lowest saturated fat content and a high amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are good for health. It also has the ideal ratio of omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids, a high content of antioxidants and vitamin E, as well as the fact that it is cold pressed add to the nutrition value of this oil.
The Alpha linolenic acid found in mustard oil reduces the adhesion-aggregation tendency of blood platelets which decreases the risk of a heart attack.
Packed with lower levels of saturated fats, cholesterol reducing and anti-oxidant properties and even essential vitamins, switching to cooking in mustard oil could well be the wisest health investment one can make.