- The burden of cardiovascular diseases is on the rise in Kenya, which she attributes to poor lifestyle choices.
- Wangari said that it is important that people consult their doctor before changing their diets especially if they have underlying health conditions.
While diet and lifestyle choices continue to play a major role in our body functions, it does not always have to feel like a task.
Therefore, maintaining good heart health is key; and it all begins with getting your blood sugar on track and managing your cholesterol.
According to Nanyuki-based nutritionist Wincate Wangari, the burden of cardiovascular diseases is on the rise in Kenya, which she attributes to poor lifestyle choices.
“Heart diseases are becoming quite common in Kenya, after NDC’s. This is probably because people are consuming highly processed foods that are also high in saturated fats and cholesterol,” Wangari said.
“If you want to boost your heart health, it is important that you target foods that boost the good cholesterol.”
However, Wangari said that it is important that people consult their doctor before changing their diets especially if they have underlying health conditions.
According to the Center for Disease Control, cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance that is made by the liver or found in certain foods.
“The liver makes enough cholesterol, but if we get that extra cholesterol from food, it is best to ensure they are at least good,” she said.
“If cholesterol builds up, that is what results in narrowing of the arteries, which later decreases the blood flow to the heart, brain, kidneys and other organs.”
Wangari said that eating beans and other legumes benefits heart health because they are high in fiber and other nutrients while still low in fat and free of cholesterol.
Eating beans has been linked to reduced blood pressure and inflammation, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
She recommended adding black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans.
Fatty fish and Omega 3
“Consuming fish and fish products has been associated with a lower risk for heart disease and depression,” she said.
Fatty fish and fish oil are both high in omega-3 fatty acids and may help reduce heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, triglycerides(fats in the blood), and bad cholesterol.
Avoid excess sugar
Consuming too much-added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, Wangari says that excess sugar increases the chances of you developing heart problems indirectly and directly.
“Among the obvious reasons how sugar affects the body is weight gain. Weight gain increases the chances of you developing diabetes, high blood pressure and inflammation,” Wangari said.
“If you are craving sugar, switch things up a little by adding natural sugars from fruits like berries. Those substitutions can add up to make a difference.”
Wangari says that bananas contain fiber, folate, antioxidants and potassium, all which are good for maintaining heart health.
“Consuming foods rich in potassium such as avocados, spinach, potatoes and bananas. Every heartbeat is critically dependent on potassium. It pushes the heart to pump blood through the body 100,000 times every day,” she said.
Additionally, research suggests that potassium facilitates the functioning of the neurons and muscles.
According to new research, some doctors may soon be able to help patients prevent heart diseases by checking their potassium levels.
Wangari said that people should include more; strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and cherries in their diet because they are rich in antioxidants.
“Berries are some of the healthiest fruits you can eat. They are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. They also contain soluble fiber which can help manage cholesterol levels in the blood,” she said.
Spinach and greens
We have been told time and again that spinach and dark leafy green vegetables are good for our hearts. Well, Wangari confirms that it is indeed true.
“Greens are full of vitamins and minerals. It's Vitamin K and Nitrates help reduce blood pressure and may improve arterial function by reducing stiffness,” she said.
Wangari advised that including these heart-healthy foods as part of a nutritious, well-balanced diet can help keep your heart in good shape and minimize your risk of heart disease.
However, a thorough consultation with your nutritionist and doctor is key, especially for those with underlying conditions like Kidney disease, cancer, diabetes and other conditions.
Quitting smoking, drinking in moderation, using less salt and sugar, and engaging in physical activities are some of the ways we can improve our lifestyle choices.