Here’s a conundrum: While experts agree that high cholesterol and blood pressure are crucial heart disease risk factors, many people who suffer chest pain or even heart attacks have levels that are perfectly normal. This puzzle has prompted researchers to scour the body for other cardiovascular villains. Several have emerged in recent years, but the one that stands out the most is inflammation.
The latest studies suggest that chronic inflammation of the lining of arteries is an important factor in the development of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. What causes this inflammation is not clear, but the good news is that (1) the advice that is given for lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides also works fine for fighting inflammation; and (2) you can tackle all 4 culprits with the help of dietary weapons. In fact, you can plan your war against heart disease in your kitchen. Here is how:
1. Think like an artist when you choose fruits and vegetables: Eat those with the brightest colors. They have the most heart protective antioxidant pigments. A diet high in fruits and veggies also provides another important heart benefit, salicylic acid, which is the same anti-inflammatory compound created when aspirin is broken down in the body.
2. Increase food sources of omega-3 fatty acids which target high triglycerides in the blood. Good sources of omega-3s include fish such as sardines, mackerel; nuts and seeds; green leafy vegetables; grains like wheat, bajra; legumes like rajma, cowpea, and black gram.
3. Reduce the amount of meats you eat, especially red meats, and always select lean cuts. Use meat as a seasoning for vegetable dishes rather than the focal point of a meal.
4. Cut down on salt and instead use herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric and fenugreek liberally in your cooking; the first three are naturally anti-inflammatory and the last has soluble fibre which helps sweep away cholesterol from the arteries.
5. Shift to groundnut, mustard, rice bran and olive oils which contain monosaturated fatty acids that help lower (bad) LDL and maintain levels of (good) HDL cholesterol. Drastically limit margarine, vegetable shortening, butter and all products made with partially hydrogenated oils.
6. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains (wheat, brown rice, oats), beans and pulses, are also great sources of soluble and insoluble fibre, which trap LDLs and usher them out of the body.