By Michael Sheridan
Heart disease is the western world’s biggest killer. It is closely followed by stroke. In fact overall around 90% of westerners have at least one modifiable risk factor for heart, stroke and vascular diseases and 25% have three or more risk factors.
In Australia, for example, a country where sport is practically a religion, over 60% of the adult population is overweight, 51% have high levels of cholesterol, 30% have high blood pressure and a staggering 8% have diabetes.
Of the easily modifiable risks, 20% of the population are smokers and around 10% drink alcohol at levels considered injurious to health.
The figures are not much different in the United States and Europe, especially in countries like Germany, Russia and the UK.
While lack of exercise is without doubt a contributing factor, the greatest risks come from an unhealthy and unwholesome diet, heavy in sugars and saturated fats. It therefore follows that by changing your diet you can reduce your level of risk from cardiac and vascular diseases.
The impact of the food you eat on your health should never be underestimated. Although there is no such thing as a ‘magic’ food that will decrease the risk of developing heart problems, there is evidence to support the idea that some plant foods can help. This is particularly true of foods such as wholegrain cereals, legumes, nuts and fruit.
In addition, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are known to lower levels of bad cholesterol (ldl). These acids also improve blood vessel elasticity and thin the blood, making it less likely to form the kind of clots which lead to a stroke.
Some vegetable oils such as olive, corn, soy and safflower have a similar effect, which is why they are so much healthier to use in cooking than saturated fats like butter or dripping.
Other dietary weapons in the battle against heart disease include folate and the antioxidants which are found in practically all fruit and vegetables, as well as the high fibre content of wholegrain cereals. Dark green fruit and vegetables such as avocadoes and spinach are particularly rich in vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant and helps protect against high levels of ldl.
Controlling blood sugar levels is another important consideration in order to avoid the onset of type 2 diabetes, often called ‘adult onset diabetes’ for a very good reason. It can strike at any age, but adults over the age of forty are particularly at risk as their lifestyle begins to slow down and their incomes support a ‘higher’ standard of living.
Eating unrefined carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index, such as wholegrain bread, cereals, rice and pasta, helps to keep blood sugar levels in check and are an important part of your diet, particularly if you are one of those who may be prone to diabetes.
For most people, moderating their diet is the simplest and easiest step they can take to ward of later age heart and vascular diseases. By coupling these changes with an increase in exercise, a surprisingly high proportion of those now at risk could not only improve their life expectancy, they could avoid these hidden dangers altogether. If you are one of those who may be at risk, don’t wait for heart disease to show itself before making the change. Act now. You might not get a second chance.
About the Author: Michael Sheridan is a chef and an acknowledged authority and published writer on cooking and dietary matters. His website at www.all-about-cooking.com, contains a wealth of information, hints, tips and recipes for busy home cooks.