Heart disease is the leading cause of death in most nations of the world, causing over 15% of all deaths annually.
Food is directly involved in many of the risk factors for heart disease, and paying attention to what you eat is one of the most important preventative measures you can take.
Since the 1970s, people have been given dietary advice about avoiding fats, however, a meta-analysis found that a class of fats found in cheese and meats (saturated fats) are not linked to type 2-diabetes, stroke, heart disease, or an increased risk of early death.
It, however, remains that, a diet high in the kind of fat that’s often added into packaged snack foods or found in margarine (Trans fats), can significantly increase a person’s risk for heart disease.
Consuming artificial Trans-fats is associated with significant increase in a person’s risk of occurrence for coronary heart disease like heart attacks, and is also linked to an increase in the person’s chance of dying from the effects of the coronary heart disease.
The negative effects of trans-fats are not surprising, being that previous research found that trans-fats can increase the risk of heart disease, and might even affect memory.
To show how serious this issue can be, the Food and Drug Administration announced in January that it was setting a 2018 deadline for the removal of artificial trans-fats from the American food supply. They hoped that it will help prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.
“Removing trans-fats will cost about $6 billion but would save around $140 billion in health care and other costs”, the FDA stated.
Risk Factors For Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease is characterized by a narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), and fatty deposits, or plaques, cling to the artery walls. This can clog the arteries, making it more likely that a blood clot will form, and circulation restricted.
A heart attack occurs when a blood clot blocks one of the arteries of the heart, preventing the flow of blood, and cuts off the oxygen supply to the heart, resulting in damages or deaths the heart cells.
A number of factors are associated with the build-up of fatty deposits in the coronary arteries:
- Cigarette smoking
- A family history of the disease.
- Type of fat eaten: while saturated and trans fats increase blood cholesterol and heart attack rates, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats lower the risk of heart attacks.
- Obesity: many overweight and obese people, who carry the bulk of their body fat around their stomach, is at greater risk of heart disease.
- High blood pressure (hypertension): High blood pressure means that the pressure in the arteries is higher than normal. This may be due to less elastic arteries, or more blood volume being pumped out of the heart.
- Impaired glucose tolerance: In healthy people, insulin keeps the blood sugar level relatively constant, but for those vulnerable to type 2-diabetes, the body gradually loses its sensitivity to insulin, leading to chronically elevated blood sugar levels, also known as impaired glucose tolerance. This can damage the artery walls and contribute to coronary heart disease.
Saturated fats are a class of compounds. Cholesterol is produced in the body (liver) from the food we eat and is a fat that is crucial to many metabolic functions. It is an essential part of all the body’s cell membranes, and blood lipids that contain cholesterol include low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
While LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque forming on arteries, HDL cholesterol helps the body to remove cholesterol from the body and makes it harder for plaque to form in the arteries.
Regrettably, Saturated and trans-fats in the diet tend to increase LDL cholesterol in the blood. Trans-fatty acids and saturated fats are formed when monounsaturated or polyunsaturated vegetable oils are hydrogenated and hardened to form margarine.
This applies particularly to the harder vegetable fat and shortening used by the food industry in products such as cakes and biscuits, and common sources of saturated fats include:
- animal products (butter, meat fat, beef, lamb, chicken skin and full cream dairy foods), and
- processed foods like pastries and biscuits
The foods that best protect against heart disease include:
- Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, etc, which contain omega-3 fatty acids.
- Some vegetable oils such as corn, soy, and safflower, which contain omega-6 fatty acids, and can help to lower LDL cholesterol when used instead of saturated fats such as butter. Vegetable oils containing omega-3 fatty acids such as canola and olive oil are also good.
- Fruits and vegetables: antioxidants in fruit and vegetables offer protection against heart disease, and are important sources of folate, which helps lower the blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine. This amino acid appears to be linked to an increased risk of heart disease
- Fibers such as wholegrain cereals, fruit, and vegetables
- Legumes and soy protein have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels, especially if blood cholesterol levels are high.
- Tea: some evidence suggests that the antioxidants in tea can help prevent the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, and may also act as an anti-blood clotting agent that improve blood vessel dilation to allow increased blood circulation.
- Foods containing vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect against ‘bad’ cholesterol. Such foods include avocados, dark green vegetables, vegetable oils and wholegrain products. Supplements containing vitamin E do not have the same protective effects as the food sources.
- Garlic has been found in some studies to lower blood cholesterol. This is because it contains a compound called allicin
Tips To Reduce Your Risk Of Heart Disease
To reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease, you should utilize the following tips:
- Avoid fried and processed foods containing vegetable shortening.
- Choose a variety of oils, like extra virgin olive oil, and foods containing natural fats like avocado, olives, soy, fish, etc…
- Change to low-fat or non-fat dairy products
- Increase the amount and variety of plant foods consumed, and reduce intake of refined sources of carbohydrates with higher glycaemic indices.
- Include legumes like baked beans, soybeans, etc, in your diet.
- Have a handful of a variety of raw, unsalted nuts, especially walnuts and almonds.
- Eat oily fish which contain omega-3 fatty acids at least once per week.
- Limit your alcohol intake; have no more than two drinks per day.
- Remove all visible fat from meat, and remove poultry skin and eat only the meat.
- Avoid cooking salty foods or added salt at the table and choose the lowest sodium products.
- Include physical activity (exercise) which is vital to reduce your risk of heart disease. If you already have a heart condition or haven’t exercised for a long time, see your doctor before you start any exercise program.