World heart week: Healthy hearts, healthy families

PHOTO: World heart week: Healthy hearts, healthy families

Cardiovascular disease, which comprises of coronary heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death among Singaporeans.

More than 30 per cent of the total deaths in Singapore can be attributed to this silent killer. According to the Singapore Ministry of Health, it is also the number one killer disease for women here.

There is a need to dispel the misconception that heart disease is an 'old person's problem', and to urge families to rise up and take charge of the heart health of their loved ones, regardless of their age.

Medical research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently indicated that the root of heart disease often begins in childhood.

High cholesterol is a condition linked to obesity. It does not help that the prevalence of obesity in children has increased to more than 20 per cent in the past three decades. And it is developing countries like ours that contribute to this alarming statistic.

Good habits from young

As the old adage goes, you are what you eat. The key here is to make healthy eating and living a habit in your children from a young age.

Generally, habits - good and bad - run in the family. Just as many of yours have been shaped by your parents, you are now shaping your children's. Think of the habits you are cultivating in your children. Are these habits putting them at risk of heart disease and other lifestyle-related diseases?

According to two studies presented at the American Heart Association 2005 Scientific Sessions, children who have more home-cooked meals are at lower risk of heart disease than those who frequently eat out.

Healthier routine

A few tweaks to your daily practices can help you and your family cultivate a more heart-healthy routine:

1. Limit the consumption of refined and processed foods.

Not surprisingly, such foods are often loaded with a host of hidden food additives and other unhealthy artificial ingredients that are stripped of nutrients.

Besides, it is high in trans fat, which is extremely harmful to heart health.

The trick is to choose a well-balanced variety of wholesome foods instead, including whole-grain bread, oats and brown rice that are friendly to your heart!

2. Watch those fats!

Fats provide flavour to foods and help us feel satisfied after each bite.

People should know the distinction between good fats and bad fats. Good fats come from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils which can help lower blood cholesterol.

Bad fats, or trans and saturated fats, on the other hand, come mainly from animal products and contribute to high levels of LDL-C (bad cholesterol) while lowering your HDL-C (good cholesterol) at the same time.

3. Adopt heart-healthy cooking styles.

Bake or grill foods instead of frying with oil or butter. Invest in a good non-stick pan so that you can use less oil when cooking. Heart-healthy food does not have to be bland and tasteless. In place of salt or MSG, add spices and herbs such as five-spiced powder, pepper, cloves and oregano for that extra zest.

4. Heart-healthy oats.

Oat soluble fibre (beta-glucan) helps lower cholesterol in the blood. When you eat oats, the soluble fibre (beta-glucan) binds the cholesterol-laden bile acids in your gut and it is eliminated through the bowels. This means cholesterol is kept from entering your bloodstream, leading to lower blood cholesterol and a reduced risk of heart disease.

Entice your children into eating oats by adding their favourite toppings such as fresh berries, maple syrup, sliced bananas and dried apricots for added flavour.

Oats are 100 per cent natural, low-fat source of energy that help you keep your weight in check. Because it takes longer to digest, it keeps you full for a longer time, leaving little room for unnecessary, unhealthy snacking.

5. Remember: Five portions of fruit or vegetables daily.

Fruit and vegetables are high in phytochemicals that can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Add them to your bowl of oats as a way of incorporating these goodness to your meals.

Tip: Avoid clutter in your kitchen and try to keep it as neat as possible. This will help you feel better and more willing to spend time in the kitchen to prepare meals for your family.

The efforts you make to improve your family's lifestyle will have a positive effect, not only on their health, but also on interfamilial relationships and interactions.