This year, the World Heart Day theme urges us to make a simple promise of keeping our heart healthy. Simply because heart health is important for everyone at every age, and every heartbeat matters! Keeping one’s weight in check and indulging in regular physical activities is important for a healthy heart. Equally critical is eating healthy food. Here’s a heart-healthy eating regime that one can follow:
Recent research shows that an increased whole grain intake helps in reducing the chances of death from heart diseases. Dietary soluble fibre, on the other hand, helps to reduce cholesterol, control blood sugar, promote bowel regularity and manage weight. Soluble fibre from oats and barley are especially effective in lowering cholesterol and are considered to be heart-friendly. Aim for three portions of whole grain foods (1 portion=30 gm) and 30-40 gm of dietary fibre daily.
How to include more whole grains and fibre:
• For lunch, swap white rice with brown rice. Eat chapatis made from whole wheat flour or a combination of millets like jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet), ragi/nachni (finger millet) and rajgira (amaranth). Include more of whole pulses and legumes (whole moong, masoor, channa, urad, rajma). Eat at least five to six servings of fresh vegetables and whole fruits each day. It not only provides fibre but is also rich in phytochemicals, which are heart-protective.
• While snacking, swap white bread with wholemeal or wholegrain bread; regular pasta/noodles for whole grain pasta/noodles; make cheelas/pancakes from whole moong, or try a mixed sprout bhel with veggies of your choice. Spread hummus on a whole-grain roti and serve as a delicious snack with carrot sticks or cucumber slices. Snack on a mix of fibre-rich nuts like almonds, walnuts, pine nuts; seeds like sesame, flaxseed or roasted channa. Add some soybeans to soups, and stir-fry dishes with fresh veggies for dinner.
• Look for words like ‘whole’, ‘whole meal’ next to the name of the grain in the ingredient list. In many cases, the percentage of whole grain is listed. Higher the percentage, better the whole grain content. For fibre-rich foods, look out for words like ‘high in fibre’, ‘source of fibre’. Check the ‘Nutrition Information Panel’ and select a product providing more than 3 gm of dietary fibre per 100 gm.
Unhealthy fats and fat sources like deep-fried fast foods, foods prepared in full-fat dairy products, vanaspati, palm oil and hydrogenated fat, butter and ghee can increase the chances of high cholesterol and heart disease, so limit them. Avoid using reheated fats and oils. Adopt heart-friendly cooking methods such as grilling, broiling and baking instead of deep-frying.
How to get good fats:
• Go for fish: Eat at least 100-200 gm of grilled/steamed fish per week. Choose fatty or oily fish like tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon to get essential omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are good for your heart.
• Get nutty: Munch on a handful of unsalted nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, chia, etc. Use a combination of oils for cooking, like groundnut or sesame or rice bran plus mustard or canola or soybean; sunflower plus mustard for a balanced fatty acid profile.
Added salt is the major source of sodium in our diet. Sodium is related to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart diseases and stroke. WHO currently recommends 5 gm salt per day for adults.
How to reduce salt intake:
• Add less salt when cooking. Train your taste buds to get used to food with less salt gradually.
• Flavour your food with fresh herbs and spices like basil, coriander, paprika, mint, parsley, cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, lemon juice, etc.
• Avoid highly salted foods like salted nuts, pickles, chutneys and salted savoury/snack foods (chivda, bhel). Instead, prepare them at home with minimum salt and oil. Enhance the flavour by using spices like dry mango powder, cumin and asafoetida.
• When buying food, check the food label. Salt is listed as ‘sodium’. Foods with less than 120 mg sodium per 100 gm are considered low in salt.
(The author is a nutritionist, Kellogg India)