What is cardiovascular disease (CVD)?
According to the World Health Organization, CVD is responsible for the most deaths worldwide with more people dying from cardiovascular related conditions than any other cause. Hypertension (high blood pressure) and coronary heart disease (disease of the vessels supplying blood to the heart) are the most common diseases of the cardiovascular system, and cases of both hypertension and coronary heart disease are rising rapidly in Fiji, due to the change in lifestyle in recent decades. Other diseases of the cardiovascular system include rheumatic heart disease, caused by damage to the heart muscle and valves by rheumatic fever from streptococcal bacteria, congenital heart disease which are malformations existing at birth, cerebrovascular disease which is the disease of vessels supplying blood to the brain, responsible for stroke and peripheral arterial disease which is the disease of the arteries in the arms and legs.
How is lifestyle related to CVD?
Around 80% of cases of coronary heart disease are related to lifestyle factors including smoking, excessive alcohol intake, inadequate physical activity and an unhealthy diet that is high in processed and nutrient poor foods.
Having an unhealthy diet and inadequate exercise may show up in the body as being overweight or obesity, hypertension or raised blood sugars – these are all risk factors for developing CVD.
How does my nutrition affect my heart?
Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of different, healthy foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables is one of the most important things you can do to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of CVD. Here is the latest information in nutrition and heart health.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Fruits and vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which are essential for our body to function optimally. When our body does not get these nutrients, it is difficult for our body to be healthy and we are more susceptible to disease and illness.
- They have fibre, which not only keeps us regular, but fibre also helps to slow down digestion in our bowel, keeping us fuller and also helping to reduce cholesterol.
- Cholesterol is essential for our health, it is important for the structure of our cell walls and making hormones. However too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol can be bad for our health and increase our risk of CVD.
- Cholesterol in our diet only makes up a small amount of cholesterol in our blood, as our body makes its own cholesterol – it is mainly saturated fat in our diet that increases our blood cholesterol.
- There are different types of cholesterol, HDL Cholesterol (Good) and LDL Cholesterol (Bad).
- Foods to Avoid(that increase bad cholesterol/decrease good cholesterol):
Chicken skin, visible fat on meat, all fried foods, fried fish, cakes, pastries, biscuits, white bread, processed meats such as sausages and deli meats.
- Foods to Include (help to decrease bad cholesterol/increase good cholesterol):Colourful vegetables and fruits (fresh, tinned or frozen), lentils, dhal, chickpeas and other legumes, grain bread, baked or steamed fresh fish, unsalted nuts, avocados
- High salt intake contributes to high blood pressure or hypertension and puts you at risk of CVD. Too much salt increases the pressure of our blood, which can damage our blood vessels, putting us at risk of stroke and other CVD.
- Salt is in most foods we eat, but high amounts are found in processed foods and processed meats, even if they don’t taste salty!
- High salt foods include – all take away foods, stir-fry noodles, curries etc. Noodles, bread, butter, breakfast crackers, chips, bongos, sausages, pizza, bottled sauces, tinned fish and deli meats.
- We can get enough salt naturally from the fresh foods we eat and there is no need to add salt to our meals that we cook at home. It is difficult to control the amount of salt you consume when eating out, as there is often a lot of salt added in cooking as a flavor enhancer.
- The more salt we use, the more our taste buds get use to it, so reducing salt can initially result in food tasting very bland, but taste buds will get used to the new tastes in just a couple of weeks and you will be able to taste the natural flavour of foods again!
- The best way to reduce your salt intake is to eat only fresh foods, avoiding processed foods where possible, and make use of herbs and spices for flavour – dhania, mint, basil, chili and other spices – these are cheap and add heaps of flavor!
- Meat can be very healthy for us as it contains many vitamins and minerals such as Iron, Vitamin B12 and Zinc, but it can also contain high amounts of saturated fats that increase our cholesterol – we should keep our serves of meat to the size of the palm of our hand, and the thickness of the palm of our hand.
- The best meat to eat is lean meat, the meat that has low amounts of fat, these are – chicken without the skin, red meat without visible fat and freshfish and shellfish. BBQ meat is generally very fatty.
- Avoid processed meats such as sausages, salami and other deli meats as these are high is saturated fat and salt.
- Fish is very low in saturated fat and contains Omega 3’s a healthier type of fat that helps to protect our heart, increase good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol. Salmon, tinned salmon, tinned and fresh tuna and sardines have the high amount of omega 3’s.
- Fresh fish is better as tinned fish often has a lot of salt added to it, but if you choose a low salt variety (less than 450mg per 100g) this may also be a good option.
- Shell fish do not contain as much omega 3 fats, however they do contain good amounts of minerals such as zinc, iodine and selenium
- Avoid seafood that has been fried or battered as this will be high in saturated fat and increase your risk of CVD, despite the health benefits of the seafood.
- Aim for 2-3 servings of fish each week.
References and further information
Food and Nutrition in Fiji, A Historical Review – Volume 2, Nutrition Related Diseases and their prevention, Chapter 20 – Cardiovascular diseases, 1991.