Eat to your heart’s content

Heart problems can be prevented or minimised by adopting a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle

Girl eatingHeart is one of the most important organs of the body. However, it is usually valued only on two occasions: one, when you are in love and second, after an episode of a heart attack.

Studies in the US have clearly indicated that Indians are far more genetically predisposed to heart disease regardless of their lifestyle, gender and age. There is also an alarmingly high prevalence amongst Indians of three life threatening disorders namely obesity, diabetes and elevated triglycerides and cholesterol. These are some of the leading causes of cardiac complications and are together referred to as “Syndrome X”.

What do we do about it?

Take action today! Don’t wait for a heart attack to make changes.

Follow the “III Step Healthy Heart Plan”.

STEP I Make changes in your diet today

Make sure your diet is well balanced and contains plenty of fibrous foods.

Some tips to follow:

  • Begin your day with a healthy breakfast. Take oats porridge with fruits or mix oats with cornflakes or oat meal bars or muffins. Oats reduce LDL cholesterol [low density lipoprotein] also known as bad cholesterol.
  • Grind walnuts and almonds with little elaichi [cardamom seeds]. Eat one tablespoon of the powder daily. Walnuts and almonds help to keep the blood vessels healthy and elastic.
  • Use soy products like soy flour, soy milk, soy biscuits and tofu. Soy contains soluble fibre that reduces the amount of circulating cholesterol in the blood.
  • Ground flaxseeds can be taken with a glass of water. Like fish and fish oils, flaxseeds are also rich in omega 3- fats that help to lower blood cholesterol.
  • Use olives or olive oil for salads, salad dressings and sauteing vegetables. Olives help to lower LDL cholesterol.
  • Eat vitamin C [anti-oxidant] rich foods like oranges, cranberry, strawberry and guava. Soluble fibere in fruits reduces the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.
  • Use garlic in daily cooking. Kashmiri garlic can be consumed raw, early in the morning. Garlic reduces cholesterol build up in the arteries.
  • Sprouted fenugreek [methi] seeds can be used in dal preparations or salads. Methi seeds help to lower total cholesterol levels.
  • Use psyllium fibres. Commercially available products like Isabgol can be [1 teaspoon 1 hour before main meals] taken. Alternatively ground isabgol can be mixed with the chapatti atta. Psyllium helps to lower cholesterol levels.

Ideal cholesterol lowering menu:


  • 1 cup tea or coffee or milk [with skimmed milk]
  • 1 bowl oats porridge or muesli or ready made breakfast cereals with minimum
  • 5 gms or more fibre per serving or mix vegetable poha or upma or 2 egg whites omelette or 1 vegetable sandwich with multi-grain bread.
  • Eat a fruit after 30 minutes. [Try to avoid banana, chickoo, seetaphal [custard apple], mango and grapes, these fruits are high in sugar low in fibre]


  • Make [1-2] chapattis with ground psyllium fibres or make rotis with whole grain cereals like jowar, bajra and whole wheat flour.
  • 1 cup plain boiled rice
  • Eat lots of salad [Include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day]
  • Include pulses/legumes/soy in at least one meal.
  • Limit non-veg. foods to once or twice a week.
  • Take a bowl of low-fat curd.

Mid meal snacks

One bowl of boiled corn or plain pop corn or sprouts or fruit salad or roasted chana/soy nuts or puffed rice or whole wheat noodles with veggies or vegetable soups.

STEP II Make changes in your lifestyle today

  • The best way to improve your heart condition, control blood cholesterol, and lose weight is by exercising daily for 30-45 minutes. Cardio forms of exercises are preferable: swimming, jogging, brisk walks and cycling.
  • Get sufficient sleep daily.
  • Try meditation. Yogic exercises and deep breathing are very effective in relieving stress.
  • If your work is too stressful, take a day off, listen to music, read a book or go to a beach.
  • Try using aromatherapy: Essential oils like sandalwood and lavender are commonly used to relieve stress and induce sleep.
  • Quit smoking.

STEP III Visit a cardiologist today

Besides lifestyle changes, visit to a specialist is a must. Cholesterol-lowering drugs and diuretics are required for a better control of blood lipids and blood pressure. Periodic health checkups for blood pressure, ECG, lipid profile and blood sugars are essential. Learn about the drugs which are crucial in case of an emergency. Always keep medical insurance documents, hospital and ambulance numbers handy.

Always remember the age old saying “Prevention is better than cure” and in fact even cheaper. Never ignore symptoms, Take Action Today!

Heart healthy alternatives

Heart attack zone Heart friendly zone
Refined foods like maida, buiscuits, white bread, noddles, pasta and pizza. Whole multi-grains like wheat, jowar, bajra, ragi, oats, barley and corn.
Coconut, groundnut, cashew nut gravies. Whole pulses/legumes like moong, sprouts, soybean, rajma, chana.
Whole buffalo milk and its products. Reduced fat or skimmed cow’s milk and products.
Mayonnaise and other high-fat salad dressings. Rainbow of vegetables, salads and fruits.
Cholesterol content of the diet should not exceed 300 mg per day. High-cholesterol foods: Shell fish, whole egg, whole milk, mutton, chicken with skin, beef, pork, veal, liver, brain, heart, kidney, ghee, cream, butter, margarine and cheese. Opt for egg white, baked or steamed fish, or boiled chicken without skin and visible fat.
Mode of cooking: shallow and deep frying. Beware of Trans fats that is commonly found in cakes, cookies and crackers, that elevates blood cholesterol levels. The quantity and type of oil used is important. Not more than one teaspoon oil per person per meal should be used for cooking. Olive oil or blends are preferable. Foods should be baked, grilled, sauteed, steamed or boiled.
Tea, coffee, caffeinated beverages, cocoa, alcohol, soda, ready made fruit juices, sports drinks and soft drinks even if labelled as DIET. Water is the best beverage you can opt for. Drink minimum 12-15 glasses of water daily. Other beverages include coconut water, home-made veggie soups or juices, lime water and low-fat lassi or buttermilk.
Salted foods: baking soda, MSG[ajinomoto], black salt, chaat masala, canned foods, dried fish, papad, pickle, farsan, salted nuts, vada pav, baked and processed foods, doughnuts, salted biscuits, khari biscuits, puffs, sauces, ketchup, chutneys, artificial sweeteners, certain drugs and tooth paste. Use salt in moderation. Avoid the use of table salt. Use more of lime pieces, tamarind puree, jeera powder, amchur powder, ginger-garlic paste and home-made green chutney.
Payal Ahuja
Payal Ahuja is a Mumbai-based dietician and consultant. She conducts workshops on lifestyle management and weight management programmes on TV. Ahuja is also IPC-certified auditor for ISO-9001:2000, and author of the book, Combating Childhood Obesity.


  1. excellent..well researched material and will definetly visit it again…keep mailing me a newsletter if u have one


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