Juggling Between Your Heart and Your Diet
A healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight heart disease. Remember, no single food can make you magically healthy, so your overall dietary pattern is more important than specific foods. Whether you’re looking to improve your heart health, have already been diagnosed with heart disease, or have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, these heart-healthy diet tips can help you better manage these conditions and lower your risk of a heart attack.
1. Eat a variety of nutritious foods moderately
A healthy meal pattern should include a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish and poultry, nuts and legumes, and healthy oils as well as drinking enough water. A simple guide for each meal should contain:
- Vegetables or salad: Half a plate
- High-quality protein: Quarter of a plate — this includes meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, tofu, beans and pulses
- Complex carbs: Quarter of a plate — such as brown rice and starchy vegetables (potato, pumpkin)
- Fats/oil: Half a tablespoon (7 grams) — including cheese, oils and margarine
- Vegetables and salad are naturally low in calories but high in fibre and other nutrients, hence fill up on these to help you avoid overeating calorie-dense foods.
- Drink plenty of plain water and limit sweetened beverages and alcoholic drinks.
2. Watch your food portion
How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Swapping your usual plate, bowl or serving spoon for a smaller alternative to help reduce the helping of food and prevent from overeating. If you noticed, the meal portions served at restaurants are larger than the standard serving sizes. Share your meal when eating out and you may add a vegetable side for sharing too! That way, you can reduce your calorie intake while incorporating more fibre and nutrients to your diet.
If you’re snacking, avoid consuming directly from the original packaging. Instead, portion it out in a bowl to prevent eating more than you should and avoid second helpings.
This strategy can shape up your diet as well as your heart and waistline
3. Switch to healthier fats
When cutting back on heart-risky foods, such as trans and saturated fats, it’s important to replace them with healthy alternatives which may help lower your total blood cholesterol. Choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, sesame oil and canola oil. Add avocados, hazelnuts, almonds or olives to your salad to help increase your healthy fat intake. Polyunsaturated fats, found in cold water fish, avocados, soy beans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and their oils, also are good choices for a heart-healthy diet. Remember, all types of fat are high in calories, therefore, moderation is essential.
One clue that a food has some trans-fat in it is the phrase “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” oil in the ingredient list. You can reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming fat off your meat or choosing lean meats. Use low-fat substitutions when possible for example, top your potato salad with low-sodium salsa or low-fat yogurt rather than mayonnaise, or use sliced whole fruit or no sugar added fruit spread on your toasted bread instead of margarine.
|Fats to choose||Fats to limit|
|– Olive oil
– Canola oil
– Vegetable and nut oils
– Soft margarine, trans fat- free
– Nuts, seeds
– Cream sauce
– Non-dairy creamers
– Hydrogenated margarine and shortening
– Coconut, palm, cottonseed and palm-kernel oils
4. Steer clear of salt and processed foods
High consumption of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends no more than a teaspoon of salt a day for an adult, which in Asian context, the sauces used in cooking also contributes to overall sodium intake.
A good first step is to reduce the amount of salt you add to food at the table or while cooking. However, much of the salt you consume comes from sauces, canned or processed foods, such as soups, frozen meals and preserved foods.
Eating fresh and cooking for yourself enables you to have more control over your sodium intake. Substitute salt for fresh herbs like basil, mint, lemongrass, or chives. In addition, you can use dried spices such as allspice, bay leaves, thyme, cinnamon, pepper or cumin to flavor your meal to minimise the use of salt.
Reduced sodium versions, or salt substitutes can be considered as well. Look for foods labelled sodium free, low sodium, or unsalted.
|Low-salt items to choose||High-salt items to limit or avoid|
|– Herbs and spices
– Reduced-salt canned foods or prepared meals
– Reduced-sodium table salt
|– Table salt
– High sodium seasonings such as stock cubes,
– Canned foods such as baked beans, tuna
– Processed foods such as sausages, nuggets, ham
– Condiments such as ketchup, mayonnaise, soy sauce, oyster sauce
– Fast foods
– Preserved foods such as anchovies, salted fish, salted egg
5. Stay active
Regular physical activity can help you maintain your weight, keep off weight that you lost and help you reach physical and cardiovascular fitness. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or an equal combination of both) each week. Burning more calories can be achieved by increasing the duration and intensity of your physical activity.
If it’s hard to schedule regular exercise sessions, look for ways to build short bursts of activity into your daily routine, like parking further away and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Ideally, spread your activity throughout the week.
Click here to view reference list
- The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendation, 2016
- Malaysia Dietary Guidelines, 2010