Eat the right food to maintain a healthy heart

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The heart is one of the hardest working organs in your body. Some foods can cause the build-up of bad fats in blood vessels in and outside the heart muscles, cutting off blood supply which can cause heart attack stroke or heart failure.

Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death compared to all other diseases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that NCDs will cause 73% of global deaths and 60% of the burden of disease by 2020. In Kenya, NCD accounts for more than 50% of total hospital admissions.

When we mention heart disease or condition, most people think about heart attack. Heart disease or better described as cardiovascular diseases generally refers to several conditions that affect one of the most hardworking organs in our bodies, called the Heart. It involves either the narrowing or blocking of blood vessels that can lead to various outcomes such as heart attack, chest pain or stroke.

How the heart works

“Artificial fats and change of natural diets lead to increased cases of heart diseases. In the Western countries, heart diseases had increased to 80% but later decreased to 40% after they adopted the use of natural foods,” Says Dr. Robert Mathenge, Interventional Cardiologist at Nairobi Hospital.

The heart is a muscle that works without a rest. As long as it is well cared for; it continues to function from birth to death. To understand heart diseases, we need to be familiar with the different types of heart related conditions which include coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Each of these conditions has unique symptoms, treatment and management. However, there are certain commonly known symptoms that have telltale signs that one may be having a heart related condition. We know that coronary arteries are normally responsible for blood flow to the heart muscle, thus allowing it to beat.

Bad fats block blood flow

The danger of this is that if the cholesterol builds up, which hardens inside the artery forming a plaque. The plaque may crack and block your artery cutting off the blood supply to part of your heart. Since blood carries oxygen, any part of the heart that is cut off from the blood flow quickly gets damaged due to lack of oxygen and can have serious consequences and even death.

Angina pectoris: Sometimes the heart can experience spasm or narrowing of these arteries and this can be due to several factors including a build-up of fat and cholesterol (a sticky plaque that makes it harder for the blood to flow through them). Once this happens someone will complain of intense pain on the left side of the chest radiating down the left arm. This pain is experienced after physical effort, stressful situations or intense emotion although this condition is reversible and fortunately does not leave permanent damage to the heart.

Causes of heart failure

The fourth and most serious cardiac or heart related complications are heart or cardiac failure which may occur as consequence of the heart’s inability to pump necessary volume of blood. It is well known that our lifestyle including the food that we eat, exercise and other habits like alcohol and smoking may affect our health. Diet has a great influence on the function and condition of the coronary arteries. Another condition caused by cholesterol is complete obstruction of the coronary artery or one of its branches. This condition is irreversible and leads to severe damage to the heart muscle and tissue. The obstruction of the coronary artery can be due to progressive narrowing and hardening of the artery or the formation of blood clot inside the narrowed artery. This causes stoppage of blood flow to the heart.

Palpitations: Another heart related condition is where there is alteration in the heartbeat rhythm which is felt as a palpitation. In some instances, depending on how serious the heartbeat alteration is, it can lead to a heart failure or cardiac arrest if the heart’s ability to efficiently pump blood throughout the tissues of the body is compromised. Although in many instances, these palpitations may be unknown, there are certain factors that promote it such as food allergies. If toxic substances are released as a result of the allergic reaction.

Stimulants: Stimulants that are normally in beverages such as coffee, cocoa, alcoholic beverages and tobacco can also alter the heart rhythm. A hyperactive thyroid gland causes hormonal imbalance and may affect the heart rhythm.

Eat the right food

A diet that is poor in plant based foods and rich in saturated fats is one of the causes of narrowing and hardening of the arteries. Lack of physical exercise and tobacco also can have the same effect. A deficiency in magnesium and other nutrients can result in tendencies of spasm or contractions of the muscles.

It is clear that the type of food one eats can either cause heart attack or prevent it. In fact, after a heart attack, it is important to be on a special diet for proper rehabilitation and to reduce the risk of new crisis. We now know that there are many causes that may lead to heart failure and some related to the food we eat.

Excess fluid in the body that may be as a result of increased salt consumption or related to poor kidney function.

As a result there is greater blood volume which require the heart to put more effort to pump and thus making it fatigued. Eat natural foods, get involved in physical activities to reduce chances of heart attack.

Tips to health heart diet

• Eat at least five portions of fresh fruit a day.

• Eat at least one fresh vegetable salad a day or plenty of other cooked green leafy vegetables.

• Eat whole grain bread instead of white or highly refined bread

• Reduce salt and sugar consumption.

• Avoid tobacco and excess coffee.

• Perform physical exercise for at least 40 minutes three times a week.

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