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YOUR heart has been working hard since you were in your mother's womb, and it will not get a break from work until you die. Heart health is therefore essential to living a long and healthy life. Heart disease, however, along with other non-communicable diseases, is the leading cause of death worldwide.
Nutritionist Vanessa White-Barrow says that in addition to regular physical activity, avoiding smoking, consuming alcohol in moderation, managing stress and eating certain foods are proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
“Foods rich in soluble fibre promote healthy hearts,” she said. “These include oats, apples, beans, okra, prunes, sweet potatoes and turnips. These foods help to lower cholesterol which can contribute to blocking arteries that take blood to the heart by reducing cholesterol absorption and reabsorption from the intestines.”
She added that foods low in fat and cholesterol and triglycerides such as fruits, vegetables, fish and legumes contribute less fat to the blood and help lower the risk of blood vessels being blocked. Fruits and vegetables that provide fibre also help reduce the absorption of fats from the diet.
She noted that the colours of some foods can help you to identify their benefits.
“Vegetables that are coloured red, yellow and orange such as tomatoes, carrots, red peppers and squash; as well as fruits such as oranges, cantaloupes and papaya contain carotenoids such as beta-carotene antioxidants which protect the inner walls of blood vessels from damage by free radicals, therefore reducing the risk of hardening of the arteries. These fruits and vegetables are also high in vitamins such as vitamins C, E and folate as well as minerals such as potassium and magnesium that are also beneficial for controlling blood pressure.”
While fatty foods are usually thought to be the culprits behind heart and circulatory health issues, White-Barrow said that some fats are good for your heart.
“Oily fish such as mackerel, herring, tuna and salmon as well as flaxseed (ground or milled forms) provide omega 3 fatty acids that reduce/prevent inflammation and clotting of blood within blood vessels that carry blood towards the heart,” she explained.
“Also, unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats also reduce that amount of fat being transported. Unsalted nuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachio nuts provide monounsaturated fats and plant sterols that help to reduce cholesterol. They should be eaten in moderation as they have high calorie content.”
On the flipside, she pointed out some foods that you should try to stay away from, for your heart's sake.
“Foods high in sodium, such as highly processed foods, contribute to high blood pressure,” she said. “Also, because the intake of saturated fats is associated with high blood cholesterol levels, it is best to avoid foods such as cured meats.
“Trans fats, found in margarine, fried foods like fried chicken and snacks, have similar effects to saturated fats on the body,” she added.
She said that foods and beverages that are high in added sugars such as some pastries, soft drinks and sugar sweetened juices contribute to obesity, inflammation and high cholesterol. These are all risk factors of heart disease.