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Fueling Your Heart: How Dietary Choices Impact Cardiovascular Health

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The heart, being the powerhouse of our body, deserves our utmost attention and care. It tirelessly works day and night, ensuring the smooth functioning of our entire system. World Heart Day, which is being commemorated today, serves as a reminder for us to prioritize our cardiovascular well-being and take proactive steps towards maintaining a healthy heart.

Healthy diet
Healthy diet

“As we know, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer worldwide, and also in India. Therefore, this year’s theme, “Use Heart, Know Heart,” emphasizes the importance of understanding our hearts to keep them healthy. This means being aware of our heart condition and knowing our vital parameters. We should be familiar with our blood pressure, cholesterol level, sugar level, and overall heart function. It is not enough to wait until we develop a disease to undergo checkups. Prevention, as the saying goes, is better than cure, as stated by Dr. L K Jha, a cardiologist.

In addition to monitoring these factors to prevent coronary blockages, it is essential to recognize common symptoms such as breathlessness, easy fatigue, chest discomfort while walking, and pain and palpitations. If you experience any unusual symptoms, it is crucial to consult a doctor and not ignore them, as advised by Dr Nikhil Kumar, a cardiologist.

A balanced and nutritious diet
A balanced and nutritious diet

Maintaining a healthy heart is crucial for overall well-being, and one of the key factors in achieving this is through a balanced and nutritious diet. The food we consume plays a significant role in supporting heart health, preventing heart diseases, and reducing the risk of related complications.

“Firstly, there should be moderation. We don’t want to deprive you of anything, we want to discipline you through a healthy diet,” shared Dr Kumar.

“When it comes to diet, there are various kinds of diets in our society and across the world. Many people follow the Mediterranean diet, many follow a European diet. But in the Indian context, I would recommend that we should follow a natural diet. We shouldn’t consume artificial sweeteners, and we should avoid outside food because it often contains a lot of unsaturated fat. So, if we stick to natural foods, especially those available in farms and vegetable markets, that should be good. I wouldn’t suggest following a very strict diet because we have to maintain it throughout our lives, not just for a few days, weeks, or months. So, I recommend home-cooked food, especially with less oil. That’s what I would recommend,” said Dr Jha.

A healthy heart just demands good nutrition in terms of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, millets, lean proteins and healthy fats, shared Garima Goyal, clinical dietitian and added, “Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens are well known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In particular, they’re a great source of vitamin K, which helps protect your arteries and promote proper blood clotting. They’re also high in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, decrease arterial stiffness, and improve the function of cells lining the blood vessels. Also, including whole grains in the diet, such as whole wheat, brown rice, millets, oats etc. reduces the risk of heart diseases. They have all the three layers intact, namely germ, endosperm and bran, this being fibre and nutrient dense. Berries are also rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against oxidative stress and inflammation that can contribute to the development of heart disease. Higher anthocyanin intake may raise your risk of coronary artery disease, including heart attack and hypertension.”

“Keep your body well hydrated as dehydration can strain your heart. For this, keep on sipping water or any other unsweetened beverage such as like water, fresh juice etc. throughout the day. Watch out for your body weight as obesity and overweight are linked with cardiovascular diseases. Eat small portions at regular intervals,” Goyal added.

What we eat directly impacts our cardiovascular well-being. Making poor dietary choices can increase the risk of heart disease, while adopting a heart-healthy diet can significantly reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular issues. So, if a healthy heart is what we desire, paying attention to what we put on our plates is essential.

“Heart disease patients should avoid high-sodium foods, as excess salt can elevate blood pressure, increasing the strain on the heart. Instead, flavour your meals with herbs and spices. Processed and fried foods should also be limited due to their trans fats and unhealthy oils, which contribute to arterial plaque. One should also avoid red and processed meats which are high in saturated fats, linked to increased cholesterol levels and heart risks,” said Archana Batra, nutritionist and added that sugary snacks and beverages can further lead to weight gain and diabetes, aggravating heart conditions. So steering clear of these foods is crucial in managing heart disease, promoting overall cardiovascular health, and preventing further complications in patients striving for a heart-healthy lifestyle.

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