February is Heart Awareness Month, so why not celebrate Valentine’s Day by encouraging everyone you love to take care of their long-term heart health? With heart disease affecting so many people, the focus should be on prevention, not treatment. We need less “sickcare” and more “healthcare”!
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease refers to a variety of conditions that affect the heart – from genetic defects to blood vessel diseases. It can mostly be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices, yet heart disease is the number-one global health threat. Many people don’t realize they have it because they have no symptoms.
The arteries that supply blood to your heart are called the coronary arteries. If your heart’s blood vessels narrow, the amount of blood they supply to your heart may become insufficient to provide the oxygen your heart needs. This oxygen deprivation is what causes the type of chest pain called “angina pectoris”. If the coronary arteries that carry oxygen and nutrients to the heart become obstructed, the flow of blood is cut off completely and a heart attack can occur, resulting in damage to the heart muscle. Arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries and the presence of a clot in the blood vessel are the most common causes of obstruction.
Who’s at risk?
We usually think of heart disease as a disease that affects men, yet it is increasingly an issue for women too. In fact, it’s the number one killer worldwide for both men and women of all races. Aside from excess weight and lack of exercise, less obvious risk factors for developing heart disease include:
- Age–Aging tends to narrow arteries and weaken heart muscle.
- Sex – Men are more at risk, but a women’s risk increases after menopause.
- Family history – Having a parent who developed it at a young age increases your risk.
- Smoking – Nicotine constricts blood vessels and increases the likelihood of heart attacks.
- Poor eating habits–Heart disease is linked to a diet high in animal fat, salt and sugar.
- High blood pressure – Narrows the vessels through which blood flows.
- High blood cholesterol levels – Promotes the formation of plaques and atherosclerosis.
- Diabetes – Shares similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
- Stress–High cortisol levels and unrelieved mental stress damages your arteries.
Unfortunately, the first sign of heart disease may be a life-threatening emergency. Disorders of the cardiovascular system are often far advanced before they show symptoms.
How is it treated?
Many different medicines are used to treat heart disease. Usually their purpose is to reduce blood pressure or widen the arteries, but cholesterol-lowering medications are often used too. Sometimes medications like these are necessary – but they all have unpleasant side effects.
Keeping your heart healthy naturally
A healthy diet and lifestyle can usually provide all the support your heart needs to function properly. Basically, the aim is to safeguard blood supply to the heart and support energy production within the heart muscle itself.
One of the advantages of living on the French Riviera is that we tend to enjoy a high life expectancy and excellent overall health. This is often attributed to the famous “Mediterranean diet”, based on abundant fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. What makes it even more unique is the addition of olive oil, oily fish and moderate consumption of red wine with meals.
Olive oil has antioxidant properties that help reduce blood pressure, improve circulation, boost ‘good’ cholesterol, reduce triglyceride levels and lower the formation of plaque build-up in artery walls – all factors which help to keep arteries clear and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Moreover, virgin olive oil contains a plant compound called oleocanthal, which possesses similar anti-inflammatory properties to ibuprofen – but without the side effects. Hence it protects not only against heart disease, but against many other health issues that involve chronic inflammation, such as cancer, diabetes and degenerative diseases.
Another reason to enjoy a daily glass of red wine is because it contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant with disease-fighting and anti-aging properties. Scientists speculate that it might even help explain the “French Paradox”- the observation that few people seem to die from heart disease in France, despite relatively high levels of dietary saturated fat and smoking. Resveratrol continues to generate scientific interest primarily for its ability to inhibit cancer, but also for its protective role against age-related diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Research shows that it also has protective effects against the ultraviolet radiation and oxidative stress responsible for skin damage and premature aging – something to consider when basking in the Riviera sun. Other sources of resveratrol are red grapes, nuts and berries – all locally produced fruits that we eat on a regular basis.
Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and anchovies are also an integral part of the “Mediterranean diet”. As well as being an excellent source of low fat protein, these oily fish are also rich in the essential omega-3 fatty acids needed to help boost our metabolism and burn calories more efficiently. Omega-3 also helps boost fat-burning and reduce insulin levels, resulting in more fat being used as fuel, instead of being stored in the body.
Keeping your heart healthy includes following a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding excess sugar and saturated fats, along with maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise. And remember – eat oily fish regularly, use olive oil liberally and enjoy red wine wisely – it comes naturally with the Mediterranean lifestyle!
For nutritional consultations on a wide range of health issues contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ 06 17481114
Try this simple heart-healthy meal – it’s one of my favorites!
Tuscan White Bean and Kale Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion
2 cloves diced garlic
5 cups, kale, cabbage, or spinach
Pinch Himalayan salt
Ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 ½ cup vegetable stock
¼ cup black or white chia seeds
Juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary or thyme (fresh or dried)
500g cannelloni beans, drained
¼ fresh parsley
- Heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute.
- If using kale or cabbage, remove any hard spines from the softer parts.
- Stir in the kale or cabbage or spinach, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, broth, chia seeds, lemon juice, and rosemary and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered while stirring occasionally until kale is tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add the beans and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are fully heated, about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings, then serve.
- Bon Appetit!