There is a common belief that heart diseases are triggered by a high intake of “harmful” foods. But, in fact, it is the undernutrition of protective foods that is more to be blamed, according to a study published in the July 2023 issue of the European Heart Journal. The findings of the study suggest that the low intake of specific types of protective food — like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, full-fat dairy products and fish — increases the risk of heart attacks.
Dr Sunil Dwivedi, consultant, cardiology, Manipal Hospital, Millers Road, Bengaluru, says, “The diet today is imbalanced and high in calories. It consists of processed food that is low in micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Instead, a balanced diet is required, which contains limited carbohydrates along with protein and fat in proper proportions,” he adds. He emphasizes that this is essential to limit calorie intake and maintain metabolism. This protects us against diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Dr Harpreet Singh Gilhotra, director and head, cardiology department, SGHS Hospital, Sohana, Mohali, too, is of the view that we need fiber to reduce calorie intake and cholesterol levels.
Dwivedi shares that heart healthy fruits are source of micronutrients and antioxidants. These protect us from acute heart attacks. Dr Gilhotra adds, “Nuts are cholesterol-free and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fatty acid that may reduce inflammation throughout the body,” he shares. “Otherwise, inflammation can damage the blood vessels and cause heart conditions and strokes.”
Which fruits and nuts are required for a healthy heart?
- Apple: Apples are considered to lower the risk of heart disease. Pavithra N Raj, chief dietician, Manipal Hospital, Yeshwanthpur, mentions that apples are rich in soluble fibers that help to cut down a lot of bad fat in the body. She further says, apples contain polyphenols, which may help in lowering blood pressure. Flavonoids present in this fruit also reduce the chance of a stroke.
- Pomegranate: Pomegranate has vitamin C and is considered to be an antioxidant, highlights Raj. Thus, it helps to fight oxidative stress that is related to several chronic conditions, including diabetes and heart complications.
- Almonds: One should regularly consume nuts like almonds to decrease cholesterol concentration and improve platelet function, shares Bharathi Kumar, dietician, Fortis Hospital, Nagarbhavi, Bangalore. She adds that the intake of vitamin E from foods protects one against fatal coronary heart disease.
- Papaya: Raj points out that papaya is a heart healthy fruit that is full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, making it beneficial for the heart. It is rich in fiber, which lowers cholesterol levels, thus regulating weight gain. Not only this, papayas have vitamin C and beta-carotene. They help fight oxidative stress and inflammation, thus preventing heart complications and stroke.
- Walnuts: Walnuts contain a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid), considered to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health. They lower LDL-cholesterol levels, which are the primary reason for cardiovascular health issues. Moreover, they help to control blood clots.
In India, Dr Dwiwedi suggests that a heart-healthy diet should consist of fruits, whole grains and millet as well as nuts. He recommends steering clear of expensive food while opting for seasonal fruits and vegetables to maintain heart health.