miércoles, 30 de octubre de 2013

Cardiovascular disease: How to prevent the number one killer

Since we are born a plaque can start building up in the walls of the arteries (this is known as atherosclerosis). As the cholesterol builds up, the arteries narrow and it's more difficult for the blood flow through to your heart, what can cause a heart attack or a stroke. But this need not happen. A lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and regular exercise play a large role in the prevention of CVD (cardiovascular disease) and it can even reverse it.

The behaviors or conditions that increase your chance of getting CVD are:
  • A diet poor in plant-based foods and high in animal foods (which are rich in saturated fats).
  • A sedentary life (less than 150 minutes of moderate activity, or vigorous activity for 75 minutes per week).
  • High blood cholesterol.
  • Diabetes or high blood sugar.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Overweight or obesity.
  • Smoking.
You can't change some of the risk factors, like being over 45 for men or 55 for women, or family history of early heart disease. But most of the risk factors can be modified, such as stop smoking, increase of physical activity and have a healthy diet which can reduce the blood levels of sugar and cholesterol, as well as reduce the blood pressure.

These are the key nutrients that can make bad cholesterol (LDL) levels rise:
  • Saturated fats: Found in animal products, specially fatty meat, cheese or other dairies high in fat like ice cream. As an exception, there are two vegetable oils rich in this unhealthy fats, the coconut and palm oil. 
  • Trans fats: Found in high amount in foods made with hydrogenated oils, such as margarine, french fries and other fried foods, many industrial products like pastries or crackers. This fat not only increase the bad cholesterol, but it also reduces the good cholesterol (HDL) what it's even worse.
  • Cholesterol: Your body makes its own cholesterol. Normally when you eat foods that have cholesterol, your body produces less to regulate it. But saturated or trans fats prevent the cholesterol in the blood from getting inside the cells that need it, so our body have to produce more cholesterol to make it up. This is why is even more important to reduce the intake of saturated and trans fats than reduce the intake of cholesterol. 
    • Cholesterol comes only from animal products, so if you want to reduce your intake of this nutrient, it would be as simple as to have a vegetarian diet (although in the case of high cholesterol due to a genetic condition I'm afraid it wouldn't be that easy...).
Being overweight is another major risk of CVD disease because it increases the blood pressure, the LDL cholesterol and the triglycerides (they are for themselves an independent risk factor of heart disease). In addition, it also lowers the HDL cholesterol (the good one). Losing weight can help to improve the profile of the fats on you blood and reduce your risk of not only this condition, but of most of the chronic diseases.

The good news is that you can make heart healthy lifestyle changes to prevent it. Think about if saving your life is worthwhile the effort of getting these new healthy habits:
  • Eat a minimum of 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day. They are rich in antioxidants which are necessary to prevent the cholesterol from building up on the inside of the blood vessels.
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  • Increase your intake of fiber-rich whole grains. Take 10–25 grams per day of soluble fiber, the one found in oats and legumes.
  • Cut back on foods that contain high amounts of simple sugars (like fructose). Drink water instead of sodas or juices.
  • Keep dietary fat to 25-35% of total diet.
  • 2 grams per day of plant stanols or sterols can help you to reduce the absorption of cholesterol.
  • Eat 30 grams of nuts a day (don't eat more than that amount because they have many calories).
  • Alcohol in high amounts increases triglyceride levels. Men shouldn't drink regularly more than 3-4 units per day and women not more than 2-3 units.
  • Increase your physical activity. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (such a brisk walk) on five or more days, for a total of at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Get your blood pressure under control. Reduce as much as you can your intake of salt or sodium as well as reduce your intake of alcohol.
  • Replace saturated fats with small amounts of mono and polyunsaturated fats. Normally you can tell it is a saturated fat because it is solid at room temperature while unsaturated fats are liquid.
    • For example, replace butter or margarine for olive oil or other vegetable oils (except for coconut or palm oil).
    • Less than 7% of your daily calories should come from saturated fat.
    • Take less than 200 mg a day of cholesterol.
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking to stop the damage on the lining of your arteries and reduce your blood pressure.
According to an important study publicated in 2003 in “The journal of the American Medical Association” a diet that include soy fiber, protein from oats and barley, almonds and margarine from plant sterols lowers the cholesterol levels as much as statins, the most widely prescribed cholesterol medicine.