by Growing Needs | Oct 2, 2023 | Lifestyle & Wellness, Lifestyle habits
None of us would ever dispute the importance and benefits of good health. And we are constantly bombarded with information on how we can achieve this. Is it through regular exercise, a good diet, maybe it’s both or perhaps it involves your entire lifestyle. With the dawn of the internet, everyone, right intentions notwithstanding, has become an ‘expert’ and eager to share their knowledge. So i know it can feel overwhelming. On top of all this, perhaps, there is a lack of resources, time, discipline, or motivation, oh my goodness, where do you start? How can one live healthier? This article aims to address one aspect, because we want to take it one step at a time, and it is about having a heart healthy diet. Let’s be honest, our culture has eating at it’s heart, we Singaporeans love our food, and there is no shortage of choices. How does one maintain a healthier lifestyle in this environment? We can’t run away from the fact that a heart- healthy diet is essential for overall cardiovascular health.
First of all, what would a heart-healthy diet consist of?
Tastes and advice on various different types of food has changed over time, but one thing which has remained constant, the undoubted benefits of consuming fruit and vegetables. Always aim for a colourful mix of fruit and vegetables, as they are rich in different vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that our guts thrive on. They are also high in dietary fibre. These help reduce the risk of heart disease. And have even been associated with a reduction in the risk and recurrence of cancer.
Choose whole grains: Try as far as possible to opt for whole grains when choosing your carbohydrates, like whole wheat bread, brown rice, oats and quinoa. They provide more nutrients and fibre compared to refined grains because they are less processed. Quinoa is also an excellent source of plant protein.
Now, as we age, many of us do not consume a sufficient amount of protein. This is because we start to lose muscle mass once we are over 40 and it is protein which helps us preserve our muscle mass and maintain strength. This is so important in order to help reduce the risks of falls and fractures. Try to meet these increased requirements by eating whole foods which includes poultry, fish, soy, legumes, nuts, and seeds. A relatively inexpensive way to increase our protein intake is to incorporate eggs into our diet because they are a complete and rich source of protein. Once seen as a food to be avoided, they are now making a roaring comeback, yolks and all. Red meat, also once vilified, if it comes from reliable sources which do not use antibiotics or growth hormones, are also a great source of protein. A couple of times a week is probably sufficient. And if you are not allergic to it, dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt, especially Greek yoghurt are good sources.
Healthy fats: Replace poly unsaturated and trans fats with healthier options such as olive, avocado and macadamia oils, eat more avocados, nuts, and seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) have been shown to have heart-protective benefits.
Moving on from the list of dos to the list of don’t, or at least, what you should try to put in practice..
Limit sodium intake: Excessive sodium consumption can increase blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Apparently Singaporeans consume almost twice the WHO’s recommended intake.
One excellent way of cutting down on your sodium intake is to limit the intake of processed foods, these are chock full of artificial additives, sugar as well as sodium. They are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, the list is endless, in fact, they are now known to be at the very core of a whole gamut of health issues today. Sadly, store bought biscuits and most snacks, even seemingly harmless supermarket white loaves of bread have all been heavily processed and contain little or no nutrition in them.
Reduce added sugars: High sugar intake can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. And this includes honey or maple syrup, often touted as healthier choices, but when it boils down to it, they all cause the same spike in insulin and with it, the same problems as a simple white table sugar. Be mindful of added sugars in processed foods, sugary beverages, and desserts. A major culprit is breakfast cereal and supposedly healthy fruit yoghurts. Learn how to read food labels and make sure you check the list of ingredients in all packaged food stuff.
Control portion sizes: Overeating can lead to weight gain, which can strain the heart and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Pay attention to portion sizes and your body’s nutritional needs, rather than focusing only on what you feel like eating. Be mindful of overall calorie intake: Maintain a balance between energy intake and expenditure to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts additional strain on the heart.
Stay hydrated: Especially in our tropical weather, make sure you drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to maintain optimal hydration. Limit sugary beverages and opt for water, herbal tea, or unsweetened beverages.
At the same time, limit alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can raise blood pressure and contribute to heart problems. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends no more than
one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Remember, maintaining a heart-healthy diet is one aspect of overall cardiovascular health. Regular physical activity, stress management, and avoiding tobacco products are also important for a healthy heart. It’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalised advice based on your specific health needs. Oh, I hope you have enrolled in the Healthier SG programme, maybe it’s time to pay family physician a visit to clarify your thoughts on how you can start to embark on a heart healthy diet.
Growing Needs would like to thank Ms Lee Hsiao Ping, a full time homemaker & great supporter of active ageing, for her contributions to this article.
Growing Needs grew out of our own encounters with caring for our aging parents and reflecting on the Growing Needs that we ourselves would face as we advance in years. We hope to build a community that will learn, share and contribute towards caring for the growing needs of our loved ones.