Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Heart Disease – The most preventable cause of premature death

Eat more of all fruits, vegetables and salads for nutrients and protective antioxidants; complex carbohydrates and dried beans for energy and fibre which lowers cholesterol; oily fish for protective Omega-3 fatty acids; other fish for fat-free protein; garlic, onions, leeks, chives, spring onions for cardio protective benefits; not more than two glasses of red wine a day for heart protection and improved circulation; Chinese green tea for antioxidant protection; brazil nuts for heart protective selenium; extra virgin olive oil, safflower oil, walnuts, almonds, avocados, sunflower seeds, pine kernels and sesame seeds for essential vitamin E.

Eat less saturated animal fat, meat, all meat products – bacon, ham, corned beef, salt beef, sausages, salami, pate, hot dogs, burgers, meat pies; salt, preserved meats containing sodium nitrates and nitrites; smoked foods, salted nuts and other nibbles; refined carbohydrates, cakes, biscuits, white bread; high sugar, high fat bakery goods, Danish pastries, donuts, chocolate bars, ice creams.
For the full story………read on

Heart disease in all its varied forms is the single largest cause of premature death in the Western world. Heart disease encompasses coronary artery disease, diseases of the heart muscle, and diseases of the heart valves, angina, heart attack and atherosclerosis.

A major heart problem in later years is angina which now affects two million Britons each year. It's caused by damage to the coronary arteries, the ones which supply blood to the muscles of the heart itself. If these arteries become narrowed by deposits of cholesterol, even modest exertion can mean that the heart muscles don't receive enough blood for them to function adequately. Pain in the chest, and one or both arms comes on severely and suddenly, and all you can do is to stand absolutely still until it passes. It's never too late to make the changes to your lifestyle outlined below.

Smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, life as a couch potato, stress and alcohol abuse are all nails in the coffin of premature heart disease. But in spite of worldwide publicity, response to the healthy eating and lifestyle messages has been varied. It's true that death from heart disease is declining, but much more slowly in Britain than it is in the US. Britain is right there at the top of the heart disease league, and when looked at separately, Scotland and Northern Ireland are the worst of all.

Here in the UK someone, nearly always a man, dies every three minutes prematurely and preventably from coronary heart disease. That's the equivalent of a full jumbo jet crashing at London's Heathrow Airport every day of the week – and two on Sundays! Yet still, the general public fails to take much notice. The higher rates of CHD in the North of England and Scotland were, until recently, attributed to their higher consumption of saturated animal fats. But the very latest evidence shows that they do not consume more fat, what they do is eat hardly any fresh fruit and vegetables. This adds weight to the current argument that the protective effect of the antioxidant nutrients in fresh produce is just as important as reducing the overall saturated fat consumption.

Epidemiologists studying the patterns of heart disease in different countries have produced the fascinating theory of ‘The French Paradox'. Why is it that the French – in common with nearly all Mediterranean countries – smoke more, drink more, and have quite a high intake of animal fat, yet they have a much lower incidence of heart disease than those in Britain, Northern Europe and the US? The answer appears to be the Mediterranean diet; large quantities of fruit, salads and vegetables, large quantities of carbohydrates in the form of rice, pasta, bread and pulses, plenty of olive oil, lots of garlic, large amounts of fish, little butter, less refined foods, less convenience and fast foods, and a regular consumption of red wine.

If we were all to adopt the Mediterranean diet I believe the drop in heart disease related deaths would be phenomenal within a very few years.

A healthy heart starts in the womb. It's accepted that the seeds of heart disease are sown in childhood by the 'burger and chips' food culture so prevalent in the US and now spreading to the rest of Europe. Professor Michael Crawford at the Institute of Brain Chemistry in London believes these seeds are sown even earlier. His research shows that bad maternal nutrition can lay the foundations for later heart disease in the growing foetus. So it's never too early to start good lifestyle habits.

Keeping animal fats to sensible levels, and eating all the high fibre foods that help to eliminate cholesterol, combined with regular exercise, will protect against atherosclerosis. Controlling obesity is the next key step and starting your children out in life with a healthy attitude to food is guaranteed to work. If you get half your calories from complex carbohydrates and eat your five portions of fruit and vegetables a day there's going to be little room left for the anti-nutrient foods. Eating to this sort of plan and taking modest exercise you control your weight better than any of the latest fad diets or miracle pills.

Garlic has been revered as a healing herb since man first practiced medicine. Herbalists and natural medicine practitioners have long prescribed it, not only for its benefits in respiratory disease, but also as a plant remedy which lowers cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and reduces the stickiness of blood making it less likely to clot. Modern science has now confirmed all these properties and more besides.

Far from prohibiting alcohol we now know that small quantities benefit the heart and circulation by opening the tiniest blood vessels at the very end of the circulatory tree – the capillaries. This helps reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow. Initial thoughts were that red wine was the key player – much to the joy of the red wine producers. Other researchers have now claimed that any form of alcohol taken in modest amounts, not more than two units daily, performs the same function. But don't get carried away, whilst one or two small glasses of alcohol may be fine, three or more a day can mean disaster.

Heart disease is triggered by a number of risk factors; a family history of the illness, smoking, obesity, a diet high in saturated animal fat and low in fibre and fresh produce, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, inactivity, alcohol abuse, stress. The real risk of heart disease comes with a combination of two, three or more of these factors, but the biggest risk of all still seems to be smoking. Deal with that first then turn your mind to reducing the other risk factors.

How to lead a heart friendly life
• don't smoke
• keep your weight/height ratio within the recommended limits
• drastically reduce animal fats, especially those hidden in sausages, pates, meat pies, potato chips, burgers and similar foods
• eat more wholegrain cereals and complex carbohydrates, whole meal bread, pasta, brown rice, potatoes
• eat more fish and poultry without the skin
• eat at least five portions a day of fresh fruit, vegetables and salads
• cut down on sugars and salt – carbonated drinks, baked beans, tomato ketchup, cocktail snacks, canned vegetables are just a few high sources
• keep alcohol consumption down to one or at most two drinks a day
• use herbal teas as a substitute for some of your normal cups of coffee, use skimmed milk, never use non-dairy creamers or whiteners
• take regular exercise, half an hour's brisk walk three times a week will do
• make time for some relaxation, yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis and relaxation exercises are all useful
• use your time wisely; plan your day to avoid over-commitment and the stress that comes in its wake


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