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Christmas cheer, new year grit for a healthy heart
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Christmas cheer, new year grit for a healthy heart

Here’s how to celebrate Christmas with happiness and joy — without compromising on heart health

Healthy eating for the heart during the new year

It’s the festive season, and just about everybody wants to end the year on a high note. But it is also the time to remember that people with existing cardiovascular health conditions should be extra careful to ensure that the Christmas cheer do not take a toll on their heart health.

A season of joy, Christmas is synonymous with cakes, cookies and savouries jampacked with calories, cholesterol and other forms of unhealthy fats.

“During festivals, we tend to eat more sweets and salty foods, which we need to avoid,” says Palak T Punamiya, a Bengaluru-based nutritionist. “Salted beans and namkeens should be avoided. All canned and preserved food too should be avoided.”

Punamiya says that reining in sugar should be one of the priorities at this time for those with cardiac conditions and its diabetic co-morbidities. Salt intake should also be minimised along with all forms of processed junk food.

“For heart health, we concentrate on blood pressure also,” says Punamiya. “So, we need to avoid salt. Instead of consuming refined bread, donuts and cookies, we can stick to multigrain oat-flour cookies and baked food if that is convenient.”

Dr Sanjay Bhat, senior consultant, interventional cardiology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru, cautions about cholesterol and starch (refined carb) consumption by people who have been diagnosed with heart problems.

“It is best to restrict starch intake, reduce it to 5gm per day,” he says. “Restrict the intake of oily food, hydrogenated fat, red meat and maida (flour),” he says.

According to Dr Bhat, people with high cholesterol should avoid these foods since they could lead to the formation of fat deposits in the arteries and eventually trigger heart attack. LDL (or ‘bad’ cholesterol) caused due to consumption of fatty food items is one of the main causes for heart attack.

Stay healthy and jingle all the way

To keep the heart healthy, doctors suggest the following steps:

  • Avoid refined carbohydrate-rich flour (maida) this Christmas. Choose healthier options like oat-based cookies and also comparatively better wholegrain flour.
  • Minimise salt in the Christmas menu since it could cause blood-pressure fluctuations.
  • To keep cholesterol under control, avoid red meat and oily foods (especially those with high saturated-fat content).
  • Use cold-pressed oils for cooking since they are rich in antioxidants that are good for heart health.
  • Stick to home-cooked food and completely avoid processed and packaged eatables. Most of the processed food have flour and excessive amounts of unhealthy fats.
  • Eat a handful of heart-friendly nuts (like almonds and dried fruits) or few pieces of dark chocolate instead of regular sweets and cakes.
  • Consume lots of vegetables and fruits.
  • Wine and alcohol should be avoided — or should be taken in moderation, depending on general health and cardiac-health history.
  • Cultivate the habit of reading the ingredients label —this helps in staying away from food items that would be detrimental to general health.

Nanda Krishna, a Bengaluru-based Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation employee in his late fifties, has been adhering to a healthy and disciplined lifestyle ever since he had an open-heart surgery. “My cardiac-friendly resolution for the new year would be to continue what I am doing: keep a check on my diet, take care of my health,” he says.

Cardiac-friendly new year resolutions

The festive season is also a good time to set some health goals:

  1. A healthy diet: maintaining a good diet is important for everyone.
  2. Regular exercise: it is important to stay active. “Those who have already had a procedure done and [whose] heart functioning is good can do regular exercises,” says Dr Bhat. But he cautions against over-exercising, which could adversely affect the heart.
  3. Reduce and manage stress: high stress levels will result in problems such as anxiety and high blood pressure, which will affect the heart and body.
  4. Avoid alcohol and quit smoking.
  5. Reduce intake of processed food: processed foods contain lots of chemicals and, at times, preservatives, artificial colours, sweeteners and flavours.
  6. Control blood pressure and cholesterol.
  7. Maintain a good sleep schedule: try to get at least six to eight hours of sleep regularly.

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