Trans fats. Carbohydrates. Refined sugars. You may have heard these terms time and again during discussions about healthy eating. There is an overwhelming volume of information out there about what foods are considered detrimental to your health and what dietary tips you should embrace for a healthy body and mind. Your dietary habits are indeed a crucial part of your lifestyle. You may have come across the phrase “You are what you eat”, but it is now also important to consider the phrase “Your heart is what you eat”. Diet can make or break your heart health and plays an important role in reducing your risk of heart disease. So whether you’re the primary meal planner in your family or prefer to order in your meals, we break down a few easy-to-follow, heart-friendly diet and cooking tips:
- Make complex carbohydrates your friend
Foods rich in complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, nuts, and fresh fruits and vegetables provide you with heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, and fibre. These foods keep you full for longer and thus, prevent you from overeating and gaining weight. Some easy ways to incorporate more complex carbohydrates into your diet include using 100% whole-wheat flour to make chapatis and rotis, swapping white rice for brown rice, using whole-wheat pasta, and enriching your flour with millets like Nachni, Jowar, and Bajra.
- Use flavourful substitutes for salt
Salt is the main culprit behind high blood pressure, a major risk factor of heart disease. Studies have even shown that high blood pressure is one of the main contributors of the high burden of heart disease in India. But there are simple ways to reduce the amount of salt you and your family consume on a daily basis. While cooking, limit the amount of salt you add and use herbs and spices instead to retain the flavour profiles of your favourite dishes. It is also good practice to avoid adding salt at the dinner table to your cooked meal. Remember — your daily recommended amount of salt intake is only 1 teaspoon and is most probably already met if you eat packaged and processed snacks.
- Embrace heart-healthy fats
Contrary to popular belief, fats are not the enemy. The following types of fats are considered beneficial for your heart: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. These types of fats help lower cholesterol levels in the blood. Monounsaturated fats are present in olive and canola oil, unsalted almonds and cashews, and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats are found in sunflower and vegetable oil, walnuts, seeds, and avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation, are found in flaxseeds and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel (bhangra), and herring (hilasa). It is important to remember that these healthy fats are also calorie-dense, so moderation is key. Avoid regular consumption of foods rich in artery-clogging saturated and trans fats like butter, cream sauce, coconut oil, and packaged snacks.
- Make fruits and vegetables the heroes of your meals
Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich sources of heart-healthy vitamins and minerals. A good general rule of thumb is to “eat the rainbow” — consume a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure you get all the nourishing micro- and macronutrients. Unfortunately, fresh fruits and vegetables do not get too much love in the traditional Indian diet. It is easy to find ways to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in your meals. You can try out more recipes in which vegetables take the centre-stage like stir-fries and salads. Swap your packaged snacks for low-calorie and filling fruits and vegetables. Have fresh vegetables as side dishes and fresh fruits as desserts It is recommended to have at least five portions of fresh fruits and vegetables in a day.
- Make healthier swaps while cooking
Simple swaps during your cooking process can go a long way in protecting your and your family’s hearts. Use cooking oils rich in unsaturated fats like olive, canola, and flaxseed oil. Prepare your favourite rice-based dishes with fibre-rich brown rice instead of white rice. While making curries, use low-fat milk or dahi instead of whole milk or heavy cream. Substitute refined white sugar with natural alternatives like honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, or jaggery (gur). Such substitutions do not compromise on the flavours of the dishes, help control your calorie intake, and are immensely beneficial to your heart health in the long run.
Following a heart-healthy diet does not require drastic changes in the way you consume and prepare your meals. Simple changes can go a long way in preventing your family’s risk of developing heart disease. Don’t take it easy with your family’s diet and heart health!
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