Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death worldwide and this is projected to remain so, according to WHO. About 17.5 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2005, representing 30 percent of all global deaths. Risk factors that may lead to heart disease and stroke include:
- Raised blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels.
- Inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables.
World Heart Day was created to inform people around the globe that heart disease and stroke are the world’s leading cause of death. According to WHO at least 80 percent of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided if the main risk factors – which are tobacco, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity – are controlled.
Healthy lifestyle through good nutrition (Healthy Diet)
A healthy diet helps protect against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity are leading global risks to health.
Healthy dietary practices start early in life – breastfeeding fosters healthy growth and improves cognitive development, and may have longer-term health benefits, like reducing the risk of becoming overweight or obese and developing NCDs (heart disease and stroke) later in life.
Energy intake (calories) should be in balance with energy expenditure. Evidence indicates that total fat should not exceed 30% of total energy intake to avoid unhealthy weight gain, with a shift in fat consumption away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats, and towards the elimination of industrial trans fats.
A healthy diet contains:
- Fruits, vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils, beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat, brown rice).
- At least 400 g (5 portions) of fruits and vegetables a day. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots are not classified as fruits or vegetables.
- Less than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars which is equivalent to 50 g (or around 12 level teaspoons) for a person of healthy body weight consuming approximately 2000 calories per day, but ideally less than 5% of total energy intake for additional health benefits. Most free sugars are added to foods or drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and can also be found in sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
- Less than 30% of total energy intake should come from fats. Unsaturated fats (e.g. found in fish, avocado, nuts, sunflower, canola and olive oils) are preferable to saturated fats (e.g. found in fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard). Industrial trans fats (found in processed food, fast food, snack food, fried food, frozen pizza, pies, cookies, margarines and spreads) are not part of a healthy diet.
- Less than 5 g of salt (equivalent to approximately 1 teaspoon) per day and use iodized salt greatly impact positively on one’s health.
How Practical can this be done:
To improve fruit and vegetable consumption you can:
- always include vegetables in your meals
- eat fresh fruits and raw vegetables as snacks
- eat fresh fruits and vegetables in season
- eat a variety of choices of fruits and vegetables.
Fat intake can be reduced by:
- changing how you cook – remove the fatty part of meat; use vegetable oil (not animal oil); and boil, steam or bake rather than fry;
- avoiding processed foods containing trans fats; and
- limiting the consumption of foods containing high amounts of saturated fats (e.g. cheese, ice cream, fatty meat).
You can reduce salt consumption by:
- not adding salt, soy sauce or fish sauce during the preparation of food
- not having salt on the table
- limiting the consumption of salty snacks
- choosing products with lower sodium content.
- Some food manufacturers are reformulating recipes to reduce the salt content of their products, and it is helpful to check food labels to see how much sodium is in a product before purchasing or consuming it.
- Potassium, which can mitigate the negative effects of elevated sodium consumption on blood pressure, can be increased with consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The intake of free sugars should be reduced throughout the life course. Evidence indicates that in both adults and children, the intake of free sugars should be reduced to less than 10% of total energy intake, and that a reduction to less than 5% of total energy intake provides additional health benefits. Free sugars are all sugars added to foods or drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
Dietary modification is key in maintaining a very good heart health and general wellbeing.
Carl Makafui Agbittor