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10 Things You Should Know About Diet and Heart Health

sports equipment, water and an apple, signifiying nutrition and exercise for a healthy heart

The prevention of heart attacks involves a combination of factors as well as lifestyle changes. Here are 10 common questions and answers on diet and heart health, for healthy living:

1. What can I eat to protect my heart?

You can eat almost everything (except food that you are intolerant or allergic to). Moderation is the key. No single food is all good, and no single food is all bad. Generally, a diet low in sugar, fat, salt and high in fibre is a good guideline. Eating well-balanced meals brings about many benefits. A healthy diet can help in reducing the risk of developing heart problems and may also increase the chances of survival after a heart attack.

2. I do not eat regularly and sometimes go without food until I tremble. Is that bad?

Trembling may be a result of low blood sugar. Your body performs best when your blood sugar is kept at a constant level. If your blood sugar level falls too low, you may experience lethargy, weakness and hunger pangs. Hunger pangs prompt quick fixes, and that usually results in consumption of foods which are high in salt and sugar, such as chocolate bars or potato chips. Intake of food high in sugar will result in excess sugar being converted and stored as fat.

3. Why is too much salt harmful?

We all need some salt to stay healthy. However, most people eat too much salt. A local survey revealed that 9 out of 10 people in Singapore consume almost twice the daily recommended amount of salt (2,000mg of salt). High salt intake may cause a rise in blood pressure, thus increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease. High salt intake alone may also increase the risk of stroke, heart disease. Reducing salt in your diet may lower your blood pressure and prevent it from increasing as you get older

4. Is eating fish good for the heart?

Eating fish is good for your overall health. Fish is an excellent source of protein and vitamins such as vitamin A (for healthy eyes and hair), vitamin B (to release energy from food and for healthy nerve tissue) and vitamin D (for strong bones and teeth). Some fatty fish, such as fresh tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon, and anchovies, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which helps to lower blood pressure, improve blood vessel function, and at higher doses, lower cholesterol levels. Eating fatty fish regularly can help to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and improve the chances of survival after a heart attack.

5. Are herbal medicines like traditional Chinese medicine good for the heart?

Herbal medicines and supplements are popular with many people as they can be bought over the counter and on the internet without prescription. However, the claims made by many of these products may not be substantiated by scientific testing. Do not assume that herbal medicines are safe because they claim to be made from natural ingredients. In fact, some of these products are unlicensed and not tested like conventional medication. They should definitely not be taken as substitutes for your prescribed medication. Since the impact of mixing traditional medicines with Western prescription is unknown, it is best to avoid consuming them together.

6. Is drinking fruit juice the same as eating fruits?

You get more nutritional benefits from eating the whole fruit rather than drinking the juice. Juicing may remove some of the nutrients such as vitamin C, and also reduces fibre content. In addition, many fruit juice drinks have added sugar, which means extra calories for the body to accumulate as fat. For a healthier choice, choose fresh juices with no added sugar. It is better to eat the fruit.

7. I eat a lot and am still within acceptable weight. Why should I exercise?

It is a very common myth that being thin equals being healthy. Exercise should not be carried out only by people who want to lose weight. Exercise helps to improve blood circulation, bring nutrients to your cells and remove toxins. If you eat unhealthily and do not exercise, the effects may not show in your weight, but it can affect your heart. Heart attacks happen to thin people as well as overweight people. A lifestyle of healthy eating with exercise and stress management will help you to become fitter and develop a stronger immunity.

8. After exercise, I get very hungry and eat very fast, which does not help weight control. What can I do?

Studies show that people with restricted calorie intake have a longer lifespan. In folk wisdom, this is the advice of eating only 3/4 full, which means to reduce your calorie intake. The brain takes 20 minutes to register that your stomach is close to being full, so you may overeat when eating very fast and consume extra calories. Try to cultivate the habit of eating slowly by eating with company and have a conversation during your meal. Also, you can wait an additional 20 minutes before going for an extra helping to see if you are really still hungry.

9. I take calcium supplements for bone health but I heard that they may harden my arteries. Is this true?

Calcium is important for our bones, but there are studies that suggest too much calcium may contribute to the hardening of arteries as the increased calcium in the blood may form plaque in the blood vessels and arteries. To prevent this, it is recommended to get your recommended calcium intake (800 to 1,000 mg) from natural food sources rather than from supplements. If the supplements are prescribed by your doctor, make sure you adhere to the recommended dosage.

10. Are whole grains really better for the heart?

Studies have shown that whole grains (wholemeal or multi-grain bread, brown rice, oats, barley, and wholegrain noodle and pasta) contain more nutrients and are high in fibre. Replacing regular white, highly processed rice and bread with whole grains can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and help with diabetic control. High-fibre foods like whole grains also help keep you full for a longer period and help in weight management.

Take charge of heart health today. Make an appointment for a Heart Screening with Specialist Consultation at Gleneagles Hospital. To learn more, please visit our heart specialists or call the Gleneagles Patient Assistance Centre 24-hour Hotline at (65) 6575 7575.