Sunday, February 14, 2010

Five ways to look after your heart

Photo: sxc/lusi

Photo: sxc/lusi

Whether it's Valentine's Day or not, looking after your heart is especially important for South Asians — particularly men — who are more at risk of heart disease than the wider population. However, there are many ways you can protect your heart whilst still enjoying delicious traditional home cooking.

The Portfolio Diet, which was designed by researchers at the University of Toronto and published in 2003, combined what was already known about heart healthy diets with additional research. It offers some useful tips:

1. Have a handful of almonds (badaam) every day.

It sounds like Ma (grandma) was right when she used to force you to eat your badaam in the morning! There is good research to show that eating 30 grams of almonds (around 20) every day as part of a balanced diet can help to reduce your risk. There is also research on walnuts and peanuts, but remember — only have a handful each day, since they are also high in fat and calories.

Photo: Nazma Lakhani
Photo: Nazma Lakhani

2. Eat 20 grams of soluble fibre every day.

Soluble fibre is found in foods such as porridge oats / oatmeal, muesli, beans, dhal (lentils) and fruits. Aim to have a couple of servings a day. This could mean eating porridge for breakfast and channa (chickpea) curry for your evening meal. Or try the delicious pea and bean salad recipe as an accompaniment to your lunch.

3. Include foods which provide soya protein.

Soya is a low fat vegetable protein which has been shown to help reduce blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Start with 25 grams and gradually work up to 50 grams per day.

Try swapping your usual milk for soya milk. Maybe you could start by making this swap only in hot drinks and using it for cereal once you get used to the taste. One pint will give you around 20 grams of soy protein.

A great snack is roasted soya beans, sometimes called soya nuts. And you could try substituting tofu instead of paneer in stir fries and curries.

You may not like the taste of soya mince, but perhaps you could try mixing lean minced beef with a little soya mince when you're cooking so that you gradually introduce more soya products into your meals.

4. Take a plant sterol or stanol drink daily.

You will find these little drinks in the supermarket, possibly next to the probiotic drinks or milk. Some companies also make yogurts and spreads with plant sterols or stanols.

You need 2 grams per day (check the label). Studies show that this amount can reduce your blood cholesterol by up to 15 per cent, when eaten regularly as part of a balanced diet.

Photo: Nazma Lakhani
Photo: Nazma Lakhani

5. Take up the usual heart healthy lifestyle advice.

Be wise with your fats, have at least five fruits and vegetablesevery day, eat oily fish once or twice a week, use less salt, eat more whole grains and be more active. Most of all, if you smoke — stop!

Remember, taking on all of these Portfolio Eating Plan tips could help you to reduce your blood cholesterol by up to 25 per cent! Is it worth the effort for you?

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Herbs and spices have a lot of health benefits. Sanaya Chavda lists a few

Herbal magic

Considering they are so easily available today, it's hard to believe that at one point there were wars fought over it. Full of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and free of calories, spices and herbs can be liberally added to dishes. In fact, when substituted for salt, they can help in reducing bloating, water retention and cravings. Recently, turmeric powder was in the news for evidence that it contains curcumin which can fight Alzheimer's and Dementia, as well as for having anticancer properties. While it has been a staple in Indian cooking for decades, the West is only recently awakening to its benefits. Indian cuisine contains a vast number of important spices which are not present in processed or fast foods. If you've been going for bland food thinking it might be a healthier option, think again! 

    Deepshikha Agarwal, sports physician and dietician says people don't know about the important properties of spices. "Due to the frantic pace of everyday life, most women don't get time to cook and order in or buy readymade meals which lack essential herbs. Even the most basic ginger and garlic is good for digestion, blood purification and releases acidity and curbs gastro problems. Saffron has vital anti-bacterial properties and is a cooling agent as well. Cloves can be used to kill oral bacteria and aid in the digestive process; the list can go on," says Deepshikha. 
    The condiments in our Indian food stimulates the gastric juices, which is why you get constipated 
eating bland food abroad, says nutritionist Naini Setalvad. "Very few people know, but coriander is the best possible form of calcium. The leaves are an excellent stimulant and it is known to reverse and retard digestive disorders, high cholesterol levels, conjunctivitis, heavy menstrual flow, skin disorders, and most importantly, to 'clean up' the mess caused by years of smoking. Turmeric has been called the 'holy powder' for it's ability to prevent Alzheimer's and cancer cells from multiplying as well as helping with cystic fibroids and sclerosis. The yellow coloured powerful beta carotene can also help reduce your stones, cardiac problems, mouth infections and dental problems. Dill leaves have a stimulating effect. They help cure diarrhoea, dysentery, bad breath, colds, bronchitis, swellings and are good for pregnant women and lactating mothers. 
    Health expert Madhuri Ruia says simple everyday ingredients like cinnamon help regulate blood sugar levels because it contains chromium and zinc and acts as a blood thinner while preventing fungal infections. "Fenugreek or methi relieves sinus and asthma while reducing inflammation and constipation. Even simple adrak chai contains ginger which has volatile 
eye number," explains Naini. Similarly basil or tulsi has antioxidant properties. It keeps the blood pure and makes your hair and skin to glow. Basil leaves also aid in diabetic treatments, fevers, respiratory problems, kidney oils and pungent phenol compounds like gingerol that help with rheumatoid arthritis," adds Madhuri who feels one shouldn't skip out on these vital herbs and spices when cooking. 

EAT HEALTHY: Indian cuisine contains a vast number of important spices which are not present in processed foods