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Eat your way to a healthy heart


eat-healthyCholesterol, a fatty substance made by the liver and distributed throughout the body, is essential for the body to function properly. Cholesterol allows the body to make vitamin D and hormones, and makes up bile acids.

Too much of it, however, or high cholesterol means there is more in the blood than the body needs. When this happens, it becomes harmful to the body particularly the heart according to health experts.

On the relationship between high cholesterol and heart diseases, Dr Fidel Okite, a medical practitioner explained: “Lipoproteins are what moves cholesterol through the bloodstream- we have the LDL (low density lipoproteins) that transport cholesterol around to where it’s needed and the HDL or high density lipoproteins, known as ‘good cholesterol’. If there’s too much cholesterol, (the LDL variety), it may be deposited into the arteries causing plaques which can narrow the coronary arteries. As these narrow, it’s harder for blood to make it through to the heart. If an area of plaque breaks open, it can result in a blood clot, which can block blood flow altogether.

This puts you at great risk of having a heart attack.”
Speaking further, he added: “Strokes can also occur due to plaque buildup in the arteries which carry blood to the brain. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, brain cells quickly become damaged and start to die resulting in strokes. A stroke can cause brain damage, disability or death.

For those prone to high cholesterol, a nutritionist, Chioma Frederick, recommends a diet rich in foods that will reduce the amount of LDL in the body. “You will need to adjust your diet if you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol in your bloodstream because of the health implication. It can cause heart attacks or strokes.

Heart foods
Frederick advises those with high cholesterol to go for foods rich in fibre, polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL and those that contain plant sterols and stanols. “If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol and you wish to bring it down, you should eat high fibre foods and cut down on saturated fats. Beans are highly recommended, as they are rich in soluble fiber. They also take a while for the body to digest, thereby making you feel full for longer after a meal. Eggplant or garden egg and okra are also good sources of soluble fibre. These are readily available in our local markets and can be prepared in a variety of delicious dishes.”

To her, certain foods which contain saturated fat and trans fat such as red meat, whole-fat dairy products, margarine and eggs should be avoided by those with high cholesterol. “These saturated fat-rich foods are the major contributors of LDL in the bloodstream. So, they should be avoided or taken in very little quantity. The same applies to some oils like vegetable oils such as palm oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter. Instead, go for olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, corn oil and mustard oil,” she stated.

Sweet potatoes, walnuts, almonds, red wine, salmon, tuna, fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and watermelon, oatmeal, flaxseed, low fat yoghurt, cherries among others, are also good.

“Instead of red meat, opt for oily fish such as tuna and salmon. Salmon is heart friendly as it is rich in Omega-3. Omega -3 are healthy fats that can stop heart rhythm disorders as well as lower blood pressure,” she said.

Nuts are rich in fibre, plant sterols and heart healthy fats and are good for the heart, she added.A small handful of walnuts a day, said Frederick, may lower your cholesterol. “It may also protect against inflammation in the heart’s arteries. Walnuts are packed with omega-3s, healthy fats called monounsaturated fats and fiber. The benefits come when walnuts replace bad fats, like those in chips and pastries.”Almonds may also help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, so they should be taken regularly as well for a healthy heart.

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  • Thomas Baird


    The sugar industry in the 1960s bribed Harvard University scientists with thousands of dollars to produce reports blaming fat for heart disease.

    Saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease; sugar does. Therefore, dietary guidelines recommending a low intake of saturated fat should never have been introduced.

  • David_Brown

    Advice to replace saturated fats with vegetable oils has distorted the fatty acid profile of the food supply. The result is a public health disaster of unimaginable proportions. For example, “Clarified butter remained India’s culinary star for centuries till it was sidelined in the 1980s by vegetable oils because of its high saturated fat. The new oils were aggressively marketed as superior and heart-healthy. Of late, research has shown that saturated fats have no link to obesity, heart disease or early death.”

    Vegetable oils are everywhere. “If you go back to those same villages or slum areas today … their diet includes a lot of vegetable oil … In China … Rice and flour intake is down, and animal-source foods such as pork and poultry and fish are way up, and the steepest increase is in the use of edible vegetable oils for cooking …People are eating more diverse and tasty meals; in fact, edible oil is a most-important ingredient in enhancing the texture and taste of dishes … The edible-oil increase is found throughout Asia and Africa and the Middle East as a major source of change.”

    A recent editorial published in BMJ Open Heart says, “We now know that major changes have taken place in the food supply over the last 100 years, when food technology and modern agriculture led to enormous production of vegetable oils high in ω-6 fatty acids, and changed animal feeds from grass to grains, thus increasing the amount of ω-6 fatty acids at the level of LA (from oils) and arachidonic acid (AA) (from meat, eggs, dairy). This led to very high amounts of ω-6 fatty acids in the food supply for the first time in the history of human beings.”

    Interestingly, primate obesity researchers use American Heart Association dietary recommendations to fatten monkeys.

    The American Heart Association says, “In prospective observational studies, dietary LA intake is inversely associated with CHD risk in a dose-response manner. These data provide support for current recommendations to replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat for primary prevention of CHD.”

    The essential fatty acid debate has been going on for decades, largely unpublicized.

    One wonders if the public health sector will ever acknowledge its mistake.