February is HEART month
Heart disease affects all races, but those of African descent have the highest risk of developing some form of heart disease. Studies show that stroke is 2 to 3 times more common in those of African descent between the ages of 45–64 years compared with Caucasians of the same age range irrespective of modifiable risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.
While hypertension is by far the most frequent cause of heart disease and stroke in Africans, high cholesterol is another leading cause of heart disease and heart failure. Cholesterol levels can be modified through dietary and lifestyle changes as described previously. Eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity is the first step towards lowering cholesterol levels without implementing medication like statins. Eating healthily foods may not provide beneficial effects if healthy cooking methods are not implemented.
- Choose lean cuts and trim any visible fat on meat before cooking. It is true that fat adds flavour to the meat and keeps it moist. However, animal fat is high in saturated fat so it may be better to cook your meat in healthier plant fats like olive oil. Portion control when using oils should still be implemented.
- Eliminate processed meats like bacon and sausages: These foods are high in saturated fats and salt. Saturated fats increase your cholesterol levels, while salt may raise blood pressure and increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
- Stir-fry, broil or grill your meats rather than deep frying. Deep frying increases the oil content of your food, which may increase the levels of cholesterol you store in your body.
- Choose leaner poultry: Eat chicken and turkey instead of duck and goose wherever possible because they contain much lower levels of saturated fat. Remove the skin from poultry to cut down the amount of fat you consume.
- Eat fish more often: Fish is naturally a low-fat source of protein. Fatty fish like mackerel provide good fats, but should be eaten two to three times a week. Other fish like croaker and red mullet which are leaner can be eaten more frequently. Desist from deep frying fish, instead steam or grill it.
- Use margarine fortified with plant phytosterols rather than butter: Margarine contains less saturated fat than butter, and with their phytosterol content help to lower cholesterol.
- Steam vegetables with olive oil instead of butter: Olive oil contains much lower levels of saturated fat than butter, and provides healthy omega-3 fats.
Taking plant sterols is a proven way to reduce blood cholesterol. Check your cholesterol levels regularly to ensure they stay within normal ranges.