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DEVELOPING HEALTHY EATING HABITS
Food is our ‘living fuel’, yet we tend to take it for granted – sometimes using it to reward ourselves for working hard, but most often to stifle feelings of boredom, loneliness and stress.
Our pace of life, high calorific eating habits fuelled by advertising, and the diversity of prepared food, linked with inactivity, have led to a tendency for the body to store enormous amounts of sugar and carbohydrates which clog the arteries and result in people being overweight or actually obese. I believe we have become ‘acceptors’ instead of ‘selectors’ of what is or what is not healthy eating.
An unhealthy diet affects the workings of the heart by not supplying essential vitamins and minerals, and an excess of saturated fats leads to a range of serious disorders such as diabetes and heart disease. An estimated 46 per cent of deaths from coronary heart disease are caused by too much cholesterol (BHF 2004).
Many feel their diet has contributed to their developing coronary heart disease, but believe that change, often years after particular habits have formed, can be extremely difficult. Many naturally turn to various diets because they hold out the tantalizing prospect of a relatively easy, quick-fix solution. We want instant change; it appears easier to handle, but we really need time to implement our chosen changes. The problem is that these diets do not reflect the differing physical, emotional, mental and behavioural components of any one individual. What is right for one is not necessarily right for another. Use your time now to reflect and to make gradual changes, because change is better maintained when it is slow and progressive.
I’m sure you have read many food guidelines about healthy and unhealthy foods and some of these may seem confusing. One day it’s all right to eat this, the next, watch out – it could lead to such-and-such a condition. This is not about reflecting on the rights or wrongs of these debates, but on reviewing aspects of your diet that may have contributed to developing CHD, and exploring effective tools to maintain a healthy diet and, ultimately, improved health.
Aim to have ‘balance’ – not too much of any one thing – through a diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, starchy foods and moderate amounts of dairy products, meat, fish and other proteins.
Let’s break down food into four simple groups:
- Cereal, bread, pasta, rice and potatoes
- Fruit and vegetables
- Meat, poultry, fish, pulses, cheese, nuts and eggs
- Dairy products
Foods from groups 1 and 2 should be the main part of each meal, with intake from groups 3 and 4 kept to smaller portions (preferably with fish eaten more often than red meat). You should also aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
A useful tool to encourage and recognise changes you are making is to write these intended changes down and keep them visible, either inside a cupboard or on a fridge door. For example:
- To reduce fat I am – using skimmed milk
- To reduce salt I am – using salt either in cooking or on the table
- To reduce sugar I am – drinking tea and coffee without sugar
- To increase fibre I am – using wholemeal bread instead of white
Healthy eating and drinking plan
- Aim to drink at least seven glasses of water a day, but no more than two glasses at night as the kidneys like a rest. Sip rather than gulp, to combat dehydration effectively. If you are drinking large amounts of water at night, tell your doctor, as this could be a sign of too much salt, sugar or alcohol in your diet.
- Avoid food and drinks that make your heart race. Cut down on fizzy drinks, or tea and coffee, and use decaffeinated coffee, herbal teas, low-calorie cola, or alternate tea with a cup of hot/cold water (works wonders for the digestive system). Green tea has been found to guard against cardiovascular disease because it lowers blood pressure, total cholesterol levels, and reduces platelet aggregation.
- Cut out or cut down on your weekly intake of cakes, sweets, processed foods, crisps, salty snacks, sandwiches and fast foods.
- Make vegetables and salads the main part of any meal except breakfast, which, in order to generate energy, needs to be high fibre; porridge is the best choice as it lowers cholesterol.
- Have at least two days when you do not eat meat and eat two portions of oily fish (not fried) a week.
- Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily (their antioxidant vitamins A, C and E increase the amount of blood circulating in the brain). If you are working or intend to return to work, take some raw vegetables to eat with your lunch and keep some in your fridge as snacks.
- Aim to eat brown rice instead of white, wholegrain cereals, bread and pasta, and reduce your intake of butter, cream and full-fat milk. Instead, choose low-fat yoghurt, polyunsaturated margarine, semi-skimmed or fully skimmed milk, low-fat cheese and yoghurt.
- Grill and bake instead of frying. Cutting off fat and skin from poultry before you cook will substantially reduce your intake of fat, which should not exceed 35 per cent of daily calories. Cook stews and soups slowly, skimming off any fat regularly.
- Wherever possible, use fresh foods rather than processed as they have a higher nutritional value and are free of added salt. However, it is better to use frozen vegetables rather than have none at all.
- Eat fresh fruit and vegetables as soon after purchasing as possible as the vitamin content will decrease with storage. Storing in a refrigerator and reducing cooking time helps to lessen this loss.
- Gradually reduce the amount of salt you add to your food. Either add salt to cooking or have it on the table, never both. If you are buying tinned vegetables, ensure they are clearly marked ‘no added salt’.
- Lastly, go shopping every day – it increases your exercise – but ensure that you buy only what you need for that day or, at the most, two days. Most importantly, read labels and buy foods that are higher in polyunsaturates and fibre (at first this takes time, but with practice you get quicker).
Try to include in your diet foods known to help combat coronary heart disease:
- A daily dose of sesame oil is said to help lower blood pressure.
- Blueberries (a large handful) provide as many antioxidants as five servings of carrots, apples, broccoli and squash.
- A daily glass of pomegranate juice slows down cholesterol build-up and reduces blood pressure, doubling levels of health-boosting antioxidants in the blood.
- Potassium (found in bananas) lowers blood pressure.
- Almonds produce calcium, the bone-building mineral.
- Peanuts help the heart by boosting the B vitamin called folate.
- Hazelnuts are rich in vitamin E, which protects cell walls from damage by free radicals. The oil from hazelnuts is almost identical in nutritional composition to the heart-friendly olive oil.
- Walnuts are rich in a type of good fat called alpha linolenic acid; this has a specific blood-thinning anti-clotting effect.
An extract from ‘The Heart Recovery Book’ by Irene Tubbs, by kind permission of Sheldon Press