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According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of deaths across the globe and resulted to 17.9 million deaths worldwide in 2016. Cardiovascular diseases refer to disorders of heart and blood vessels including coronary heart disease, peripheral arterial disease, cerebrovascular disease, congenital heart disease, deep vein thrombosis, and rheumatic heart disease. The most common reason behind heart attacks and strokes is building up of fat deposits on the inner walls of blood vessels that supply blood to heart and brain.
India accounts for one fifth of the total number of deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases. It has been observed that in India, cardiovascular disease develops earlier in life compared to high-income countries. A study conducted by the medical journal Lancet has pointed out the changing patterns of cardiovascular diseases in the country, with a higher number of men suffering from ischemic heart disease. The growing prevalence of heart diseases can be prevented by raising awareness and addressing behavioural risk factors such as unhealthy diet, obesity, usage of tobacco, consumption of alcohol, and physical inactivity. Further, early screening and management of conditions such as diabetes and hypertension can significantly reduce the occurrence of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases.
To keep a healthy functioning heart, it is important to know what to eat and what to avoid. Full fat dairy products including cheese and butter, trans fats, and hydrogenated fats need to be avoided as these might lead to increase in the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, thereby posing an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Heart patients are also advised against the consumption of bakery products, red meat, processed food, carbonated beverages, refined carbohydrates, deep fried foods, and sweets and desserts.
For heart patients, nutritionists emphasize on the intake of a fiber rich diet that contains less amount of salt and sugar as well in case a heart patient is diabetic. Foods that support heart health include whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds such as flax seeds and fenugreek seeds, soya proteins, green leafy vegetables and whole fruits, lean meats and fish, green tea, and low-fat dairy such as yoghurt and milk. High fiber grains are complex carbohydrates and hence, are helpful in blocking cholesterol synthesis. Oats, quinoa, brown rice, millets, fibrous fruits and vegetables are all complex carbohydrates. Lean meats such as eggs, chicken, fish, and low-fat dairy products are suggested for fulfilling 15-20% of protein intake in diet of heart patients. Olive oil, sesame oil, and flaxseed oil are the ideal sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids for such diet.
Portion control is another important aspect while charting out diet for heart patients. Eating in limited amount throughout the day rather than indulging in heavier three-course meals helps in digestion and puts lesser stress on heart. Also, heart patients are advised to avoid heavy foods such as cauliflowers and beans that increases flatulence and puts stress on heart.
Some traditional Indian recipes, when cooked with less salt and oil/ghee, can be healthy and tasty alternatives for patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases. Keeping a check on the amount and type of oil/ ghee is very important while cooking for heart patients. Three teaspoons of oil/ ghee (15 ml) is usually recommended. Cooking with groundnut oil, mustard oil, rice bran oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil can further benefit heart patients. Indian recipes use seeds such as fenugreek seeds that serves as a rich source of soluble fiber and is known to reduce cholesterol.
The amount of salt in cooking also needs to be monitored. Though 5-6 grams of salt per day is recommended for healthy individuals, heart patients are advised to take no more than 2 grams of salt. Here are a few Indian food options that can be included in the diet of heart patients:
Nowadays, dieticians suggest making traditional Indian recipes with healthier alternative ingredients. Making Khichdi with moong dal and barley, vegetable curries with fibrous vegetables such as broccoli and carrots, idli and upma with oats or quinoa, or roti and parathas with multigrain flour can further increase their nutritional value.
A healthy diet coupled with an active lifestyle can significantly lower the risks of heart diseases. However, in the event of medical emergencies and treatments, expenses can put a financial strain on heart patients and their families. Getting a health insurance or upgrading an existing one to cover heart-related treatments is a wise decision, especially for people with an history of cardiac diseases in their families or patients suffering from heart-related conditions. Religare HI s Care Heart is a health insurance plan that offers comprehensive coverage for pre-existing heart diseases. The plan not only takes care of hospitalization expenses, but also alternate treatments, ambulance expenses, and OPD expenses among others.