What we eat can contribute significantly to our risk of developing potentially life-threatening, diet-related illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Conversely, following a healthy and balanced diet can help us to protect ourselves against these diseases and improve our chances of living a longer and healthier life.
Key elements of healthy eating include:
For professional advice on heart-healthy eating, you may contact our resident nutritionist, Ms Toh Yun Xuan at 6354 9365 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment.
Alternatively, you may ask your cardiologist or family doctor to refer you to any of the hospitals listed below for nutritional counselling:
Tel: 6370 6970
Changi General Hospital
Tel: 6850 3333
National University Hospital
Tel: 6772 5166
Singapore General Hospital
Tel: 6326 5293
Tan Tock Seng Hospital
Tel: 6357 8000
Fat is an essential nutrient in the human body. It has several important functions including cushioning delicate internal organs such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys; carrying fat-soluble vitamins (namely, Vitamins A, D, E, and K) in the blood; and insulating the body to keep us warm.
Excessive consumption of fat, however, increases our risk of obesity, high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, coronary heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. In this context, it is important that we monitor both the quantity and the types of fat which we eat.
There are three main kinds of fat in food:
saturated fat – for instance, coconut oil, palm oil, butter, ghee. This type of fat tends to raise LDL cholesterol levels and contribute to atherosclerosis;
polyunsaturated fat – for example, sunflower oil, corn oil, soya bean oil. Polyunsaturated fat is regarded as a healthier alternative to saturated fat.
monounsaturated fat – for instance, olive oil and canola oil. It is believed that this kind of fat helps to reduce our overall blood cholesterol levels and may thus be beneficial to our health in moderate amounts.
Nutritionists recommend that we consume at most 30% of our daily energy needs in the form of fat. Saturated fat should comprise no more than 1/3 of our total daily fat intake, with unsaturated fat making up the remaining 2/3.
To reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet, give these tips a try.
Trim off visible fat from meat and remove the skin from poultry before cooking or eating these.
Replace full-fat dairy products with low-fat or fat-free versions whenever possible.
Limit your intake of deep-fried food to at most twice a week.
Instead of frying food, boil, steam, poach, or stew it with little or no oil.
For dessert, cut down on cream cakes and pastries, and have fresh fruit in lieu.
When eating out, choose soup-based dishes as these tend to be lower in fat and calories than fried dishes, drink plain water or fresh fruit juice instead of sweetened drinks, and avoid deep-fried items.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance which is produced naturally by the liver and found in the blood. It is also found in animal products such as meat, dairy products, shellfish and egg yolks, but not in plant products.
Some amount of cholesterol is necessary for healthy living – for instance, cholesterol is needed to form certain tissues and nerves in the body. In addition, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is actually “good” for our health as it picks up fatty deposits in the blood and carries them back to the liver to be discarded.
Too much cholesterol, however, especially in the form of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol, causes the build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of blood vessels. This may in turn lead to atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
Our blood cholesterol levels are influenced by our body weight, as well as the amount and type of fat (especially saturated fat), dietary fibre, and cholesterol which we eat. The last of these factors is especially important as the human body is able to make all the cholesterol which it needs. We do not therefore need to consume any additional cholesterol in our diet.
On average, we should take in at most 300 mg of cholesterol daily. Ways in which you can cut down on your cholesterol intake include:
eating cholesterol-rich foods such as shellfish and animal organs (for instance, liver, kidney, tripe) at most twice a week and in small amounts each time;
replacing meat with beancurd, nuts, or other plant products periodically;
limiting intake of eggs to 3 to 5 eggs a week (for normal healthy adults and adolescents);
persons with high cholesterol levels should eat no more than 2 to 3 eggs a week, while young children can have up to 5 to 6 eggs a week.
Dietary fibre, which can be found in vegetables, fruit, lentils and pulses, plays a vital role in reducing our risk of heart disease and other diet-related illnesses such as colorectal cancer. In particular, soluble fibre, such as that found in oats, has a protective effect on the heart as it helps to reduce the amount of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the blood.
To maintain good health, we should eat 20-35 g of fibre daily. Good sources of fibre include:
Salt, or sodium chloride, is needed for the healthy functioning of the body. Just one teaspoon of salt a day is enough for this purpose. Consuming more than this amount of salt, especially if greatly in excess, can lead to high blood pressure, which is in turn a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and kidney failure. This is because the sodium found in salt acts like a sponge, causing water to be retained in the body. This makes the blood volume expand, thus raising the blood pressure in our veins and arteries.
Most of us take in far too much salt, especially in the form “hidden” salt in food products such as commercial seasonings, tomato ketchup, sausages, bacon, and smoked meats. To reduce your salt intake, eat smoked / barbecued meats sparingly; use less salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other commercial seasonings in your cooking by replacing them with natural seasonings such as fresh herbs, ginger and onions; have fresh fruit instead of snacking on highly-salted tidbits such as potato chips.
There is increasing evidence that moderate alcohol intake – meaning: an average of one drink a day for women and two drinks per day for men – may protect us against heart disease. This is especially so if we consume alcohol in the form of red wine. Research indicates that red wine contains natural anti-oxidants and other compounds capable of preventing the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in blood vessels. Other studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may also help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and decrease the risk of thrombosis (formation of blood clots) in vital blood vessels by making the platelets in blood less “sticky”.
On the other hand, drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, produce irregular heartbeats, and contribute to obesity, all of which are themselves risk factors for cardiovascular disease. For these reasons, prevailing medical opinion leans towards the view that non-drinkers should not start consuming alcohol, while those who are already drinkers should not increase their alcohol intake.