Defeating heart disease in 4 easy steps

defeatheartdisease.jpgThis article summarizes in 4 steps which we can take right now to start the process of defeating heart disease. 

1)   Physical activity

A brisk walk, 30 minutes daily, is all that is required to get the heart to good health. Walking needs no preparation. All we need to do is pull on our shoes, and we are ready to go. Sometimes due to time constraint or physical condition, it may not be possible to walk for 30 minutes in one stretch. The same positive health effect can be obtained by walking several times, for shorter periods, say 5 or 10 minutes, to a total of 30 minutes each day.

Swimming, cycling, jogging, and working out in a gym are all equally good alternatives.

Yoga is a wonderful way to exercise the body. It strengthens the muscles, builds immunity and boosts mental and physical health. But the simple yoga practiced by the average person, cannot replace walking. For most us, we need to walk even if we participate in a yoga routine everyday.

2)   Total cessation of tobacco

 There is absolutely no doubt that smoking causes heart disease. Total cessation of smoking is vital – we cannot hope for a cure whilst we continue to smoke. Zarda, khaini, gudka, gull, supari and paan-masala are all equally harmful and need to be stopped completely.

3)   Eat healthy

“You are, what you eat.” Anthelme Brillat-Savrin French physician (1826)

For a healthy heart and body, there are foods that we need to eat and there are things that we have to avoid. After all, “we are, what we eat”.

One good news. We do not have to keep a count of the calories that we consume each day – even if we are overweight or obese and are focused on losing weight. As long as we eat the right stuff, and shun the wrong stuff, our powerful internal system will ensure that we will achieve and maintain ideal body weight, and fabulous health.

There are not many food and beverages that we need to keep away from. But, unfortunately the stuff which we need to give up, is what most of us like, and crave. So the task of giving up becomes that more difficult.

Here is what we need to stay away from:

1.   Irregular mealtimes: Eating at irregular and odd hours is very unhealthy and promotes weight gain, heart disease and other serious health issues. We need to develop a regular routine for the three main meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is best to stop consumption of food and beverages two hours before retiring to bed, except for a warm cup of milk to aid sleep.

2.   Overeating: Overeating is a crime that many of us indulge in very frequently. We ignore the signal of satiety and continue eating. As soon as we are full, the signal starts blinking, loud and clear but we defy it, if the food is delicious, and many a times, just so that the food on the table is not wasted. Regular overeating leads to overweight and obesity.

3.   Simple and refined carbs: sugar, honey, gur, and sugar-sweetened food such as sweet-meats, chocolates, jam, cold drinks, sherbat, syrup; refined grains such as white rice; refined wheat flour (maida) and products from maida such as pasta, noodles, pizza, cakes, pastries, white bread, biscuits, cookies.

Most of processed and packaged food are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) because it is cheaper and 1.7 times sweeter than sugar.  Compared with sugar, HFCS has an even larger negative impact on our heart, brain and intestinal bacteria.

4.   Transfats: Transfats cause heart disease. Any food containing transfat has to be discarded. Totally and completely. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats are transfats. Vanaspati ghee (Dalda, Rath, Kusum) is transfat. Most margarines are transfat, unless the label on their packaging specifies ‘no transfats’. Food prepared with vanaspati ghee contain transfats, such as bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries, most sweets sold in Indian sweet shops, and food prepared in restaurants and take-aways. Biryani is a popular dish prepared with vanaspati ghee.

We need to establish a habit of examining the ingredient label of all packaged and processed food. If the ingredient list includes hydrogenated or partial hydrogenated fat, we have to shun that item and choose an alternative which contains no transfat.

5.  Processed and packaged food: Most processed and and packaged food and beverages contain unhealthy components such as simple and refined carbs, transfats, emulsifiers, stabilizers and coloring agents. Recent studies have indicated that these emulsifiers, stabilizers and other additives have the potential to inflict serious damage. Eating a meal prepared with basic, natural ingredients is far more healthy than processed and packaged food.

6.  Excessive saturated fats: Saturated fats are found in animal products such milk, butter, ghee, fish, meat and some vegetable products like coconut and palm oil. When consumed in moderation, they have a beneficial effect on our heart and throughout our body. For example, a meal primarily consisting of meat is bad, but it is healthy when the meat is a component of a balanced meal that includes whole grains, vegetables, lentils.

7.   Cold drinks, sherbets, energy drinks, ‘health’ drinks: These beverages are intensely promoted as cool and manly, vehicles of instant freshness of the mind and body, and sure-shot engines of energy, stamina and growth. They are anything but. They are all packed with components which harm our heart and other organs.

Cold drinks and energy drinks are sweetened with HFCS, which is even worse than sugar. Even the ‘zero calorie drinks’ are damaging because they are sweetened with artificial sweeteners which damage our intestinal bacteria when consumed regularly. The so-called health drinks such as Horlicks, Boost and Bournvita are filled with simple and refined carbs.

8.   Condiments: Salt should be used in moderation. We should minimise the use of processed and packaged condiments such as tomato ketchup, salad dressings, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce: they contain harmful additives and most are enriched with sugar. It is easy to whip up a heart healthy and delicious sauce, dressing or dip with a wide range of basic ingredients such as yoghurt, olive or sesame oil, chopped tomato and onion, and mint and coriander leaves.

Here is what we should to eat:

We need to eat a nutrient-dense, balanced diet that meets our energy needs, and our requirement of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

1.  Water: As a beverage, nothing surpasses water. We need to consume at least 2 litters everyday, more in hot climatic conditions. Water helps manage body weight. A chronically dehydrated state leads to overweight and obesity.

2.   Healthy beverages: Unsweetened tea, coffee, lassi, buttermilk, milk, sattu-drink, coconut water, nimbu-pani (lemon drink), soya milk. They all are nutrient-dense and promote health. Alcohol, consumed in moderation, is good for the heart. This means a glass of wine for women and 1-2 for men, each day (or an equivalent amount of spirits).

3.   Unprocessed whole grains: Unprocessed grains such as whole wheat, brown rice, corn, jowar, bajra, ragi, and their atta. All are nutrient-dense.

4.   Vegetables and fruits: Eating a variety of vegetables and fruit delivers a wide range of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber – all so essential for a healthy heart. Leafy green vegetables are particularly good to have everyday.

5.   Seeds and nuts: Seeds and nuts are power-packed with mostly healthy fat, proteins, carbs, vitamins and minerals. Eating a handful each of seeds and nuts should be a daily routine. The list includes sunflower and melon seeds, almonds, cashew nuts, peanuts, pistachio, walnuts.

6.   Lentils: All lentils are nutrient dense and are packed with proteins. They are a useful in meeting the protein requirement of vegetarians.

7.   Milk and milk products: Cheese, paneer, butter, and unsweetened yoghurt, kefir, lassi and buttermilk.

8.   Eggs, fish, mutton, beef, pork: All in moderation and as part of a healthy meal.

9.   Soya and soya products: Unsweetened soya milk, tofu, soya nuggets or chunks.

10.  Spices and herbs: Contrary to what some people believe, spices and herbs are good for us and our heart. They are packed with nutrients and antioxidants which help prevent and reduce heart disease. They should all be used liberally.

11.  Fat for cooking: Some fats are better in withstanding the onslaught of heat generated when cooking. Ghee’s high smoking point and rich content of saturated fat, ensures it’s resistance to oxidation when heated. Amongst the oils, sesame seed oil and mustard oil are good but the outstanding one is peanut oil. Used in moderation, all these fats are good as part of a balanced diet.

4)  Sleep and relaxation

Adequate sleep (adults: 7-8 hours each night) is essential for mental health as well as heart health. Sleep deprivation leads to ill health and leads to heart disease and hypertension. A regular and fixed bedtime (9-10 pm) has a tremendous positive impact on the quality of sleep.

Besides, we need to weave in periods of rest and relaxation into our busy and stressful lives. Meditation is very useful in calming stress – by practicing it regularly we reap benefits, longterm.


4 easy steps to defeat heart disease:

1 Walk 30 minutes everyday
2 Stop smoking No zarda, khaini, paan-masala, supari, gul, gudka, tobacco
3 Stop simple and refined carbs, and transfats No sugar, honey, gur, glucose

No sugar sweetened food: sweets, chocolates, cakes, pastries, jam, breakfast cereals (corn flakes)

No sugar sweetened beverages: cold drinks, sherbet, fruit juice, fruit drink

No refined grains: white rice

No refined wheat flour (maida): pasta, noodles, pizza, naan, white bread*, biscuits, cookies

No transfats (vanaspati ghee and margarine): biscuits, cakes, Indian sweets, biryani

4 Eat a nutrient-dense, balanced diet Water and other healthy unsweetened beverages: tea, coffee, sattu drink, tender coconut water, nimbu pain

Unprocessed whole grains: whole wheat atta, brown rice, corn, jowar, ragi

Vegetable and fruits

Seeds and nuts: sunflower and melon seeds, almond, cashew nut, peanut, pistachio

Lentils: every type of dal

Milk and unsweetened milk products: cheese, paneer, butter, yoghurt, lassi, buttermilk

Eggs, fish, chicken, mutton

Soya and soya products

Spices and herbs: use liberally

5 Sleep 7-8 hours every night

* All breads contain a substantial amount of maida, even brown bread and so-called whole wheat bread.